A reminder about SPCC

Here is a reminder that the Spill Prevention and Control Countermeasure (SPCC) plan is applicable to “owners and operators” of onshore and offshore facilities that exceed the threshold of 1320 gallons of oil. 40 CFR 112.3(a) is very clear on that. What that means is that if you are not the owner or operator of a unit that contains oil, you do not need to count that oil against the threshold.

transformer2For example, if you have transformer stations that hold hundreds of gallons of oil within your facility boundary and yet you have no operational control or ownership of the transformers (the local utility owns them), you do not have to count the transformer fluid.

The simple questions to ask are: “Do I have access to these tranformers?” , “Do I own them?” and “Am I responsible for making sure they work and maintaining them?” If the answer is no, you are neither the owner nor operator.

Many facilities make the mistake of including the oil in these transformers towards the 1320 threshold and end up preparing an SPCC when they don’t really need to.

4 responses to “A reminder about SPCC

  1. From a conservative standpoint, I would disagree.

    The definition of owner or operator pertains to the facilty itself, not the ownership of individual pieces of equipment. SPCC plans apply to the “storage” of 1320 gallons or more. If you own or operate a facilty and within your property line you store oil in a transformer, you can be held responsible . All you’ve done is grant an easement to the Utilty to store their oil on your property. The regulations do not provide an exemption for storing someone elses oil.

  2. Troy, thank you for your comment. Being conservative is good. But only good to a point.

    Here is a paragraph taken from EPA’s SPCC Guidance for Regional Inspectors (November 28, 2005): “If a facility is regulated under the SPCC rule, it is the responsibility of the facility owner and operator to ensure that an SPCC Plan is prepared. A site may have multiple owners and/or operators, and therefore can have several facilities. Factors to consider in determining which owner or operator should prepare the Plan include who has control over day-to-day operations of the facility or particular containers and equipment, who trains the employee(s) involved in oil handling activities, who will conduct the required inspections and tests, and who will be responsible for responding to and cleaning up any discharge of oil. EPA expects that the owners and operators will cooperate to prepare one or more Plans, as appropriate.”

    Note that EPA recognizes that a site “may have multiple owners and/or operators”. If you grant an easement to the Utility to have a transformer station on your “site”, you basically have two owners and operators – you and the Utility. Now you can have an arrangement with the Utility to prepare one single SPCC that covers both owners’ equipment. Or you can tell the Utility to do its own. I would include the Utility’s oil in my SPCC if and only if I have operational control over the transformer. How else can I possibly implement the Plan if the transformer station is under lock and key and I don’t have the key? What happens when there is a spill? In other words, I have to take ownership of the transformer if I am going to include it. Why would you want ot do that? That is not an attractive option.

    If the Utility won’t give me the key (and they won’t), it should do its own SPCC. That would be my recommendation. It is their equipment and their oil. Let them deal with it.

  3. I would be of the opinion that protection of the environment is the key issue, and the fundamental problem here is that even though a utility may retain the title to the transformer, they may not be in a position to be able to respond to a spill in a timely manner, in order to protect the environment. So it follows that the decision as to who will do what ought mainly to focus on protection of the environment, rather than whether the operational responsibility is an attractive option or not. When it is abundantly clear to all parties that the site owner is best able to respond timely to a spill, then the items ought best be included in the site owner’s plan, as a matter of environmental protection policy of the site owner, especially in the case of a site that is environmentally sensitive. Without other qualifying information, this is how the general case should be approached, as a matter of ensuring that the environmental protection duty is reasonably approached, and without regard to costs. If a site owner cannot reasonably and effectively respond to a spill, the duty would devolve from the site owner to the transformer owner. As one could imagine, those who would wish to separate the ownership of features could circumvent the requirement to have a plan and thus protect the environment, merely by claiming that “someone else” owns the items that would have put the site above the threshold, enabling the unscrupulous to avoid having a plan, thus threatening to undermine the entire protection process that the EPA attempts to create by requiring the plan in the first place.

    • Bruce..thank you for your comment. Let me apply your logic to a hypothetical situation. Let’s say I live on the East Coast and I own an apartment on the West Coast and you are my tenant. YOu call me up one day and tell me your toilet is not working. I tell you that since I cannot reasonable respond to your request, yo need to fix it yourself at your expense. Does that work for you? If a utility company is going to put a transformer on somebody’s site, it has to be responsible for any spill coming from the transformer. “Polluters pay” is the underlying principle. The same principle applies in Superfund cases. If the utility company cannot respond to a spill from its equipment in a timely manner, it needs to (legally obligated) make arrangement either with a third party contractor or with the site owner to mitigate any spills. Whoever does the cleanup, the owner IS responsible under the law. EPA will look to the transformer owner and operator to do just that. Since the site owner has NO operational control over the transformer, why should it be responsible for any spills that may come from it?

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