Category Archives: chemical spills

BP’s Criminal Fines

The US Department of Justice announced yesterday that it had reached a landmark settlement with BP Oil for its massive oil spill 2 years ago.

BP has agreed to pay $4.9 billion in criminal fines and plead guilty to criminal charges of manslaughter resulting from the deaths of 11 employees on the drill rig. A vice president of BP has been indicted for lying to Congress when he allegedly provided false information about the amount of oil spilled to the government. He told Congress the amount spilled was about 5000 barrels a day when he had knowledge that it was almost 10 times that amount, according to the indictment.

Two drill rig supervisors (the most senior persons on the platform when the incident occurred) were also indicted for manslaughter. The government alleged in the indictment that they ignored repeated danger signs that the rig was about to blow up and failed to consult with company experts prior to the incident.

The maximum amount of criminal fine under the Clean Water Act could be as high as $20 billions based on findings of criminal negligence.


Is groundwater “navigable waters” under SPCC?

You have to prepared a SPCC plan if you have more than 1320 gallons in shell capacity AND the potential to impact navigable waters of the United States.

Many people ask the question” “Is groundwater included in the definition of navigable waters under the Spill Prevention Control Countermeasures regulation?”

The short answer is NO.

However, keep in mind that groundwater could act as a conduit for spilled oil to reach navigable waters of the U.S.

Here is what EPA stated in its SPCC Inspection Guide: Facilities should consider “certain underground features (e.g., power or cable lines, or groundwater), (that) could facilitate the transport of discharged oil off-site to navigable waters.”

EPA reached largest Clean Water Act settlement in the Gulf Oil Spill case

EPA just announced the first major settlement with a company connected with the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC has agreed to settle its liability in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in a settlement with the United States valued at $90 million, announced the Department of Justice, the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today.  Approximately $45 million of the $90 million settlement is going directly to the Gulf in the form of penalties or expedited environmental projects.

According to the terms of the settlement, MOEX will pay $70 million in civil penalties to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act resulting from the spill and agreed to spend $20 million to facilitate land acquisition projects in several Gulf states that will preserve and protect in perpetuity habitat and resources important to water quality and other environmental features of the Gulf of Mexico region.  At the time of the spill, MOEX was a minority investor in the lease for the Macondo well. It no longer owns any share of the lease.

This is the largest Clean Water Act penalty to-date. MOEX owned 10% interest in the Macondo well and settled for $90 million. Just imagine how much BP will pay in final settlement.

Internal communication or alarm system

One of the most frequently cited violations under RCRA is the lack of an internal communication system at places where hazardous wastes are being handled.

40CFR264.34 (a) states that “whenever hazardous waste is being poured, mixed, spread, or otherwise handled, all personnel involved in the operation must have immediate access to an internal alarm or emergency communication device, either directly or through visual or voice contact with another employee”.

40CFR 264.32(b) goes on to state that “if there is ever just one employee on the premises while the facility is operating, he must have immediate access to a device, such as a telephone (immediately available at the scene of operation) or a hand-held two-way radio, capable of summoning external emergency assistance.”

The requirements are pretty clear. Yet many facilities do not have them and end up being cited by the inspector.

We have scheduled several online live webinars to discuss the most frequently cited RCRA violations and how to avoid them.

What to do after a chemical spill?

In this post, we review several keys things you need to do right after you have a chemical accident.

  1. The first priority is human lives. Make sure your employees are alright and their health and safety are secure. If the spill involves ignitable chemicals, make sure all ignition sources are turned off.
  2. Contain the chemical spill or accident.
  3. Estimate the amount of spill and determine the Federal Reportable Quantity (RQ) of the chemical that has been spill. The RQ can be found in the List of Lists. This is where preparation comes in handy. If you had reviewed your chemical inventory and determined the appropriate RQ before the spill occurred, you would be in a much better shape.
  4. Report all spill amounts that exceed the RQ to the National Response Center at 1-800- 424-8802  as soon as possible.
  5. Check to see if there are any spill reporting requirements mandated by your state agency. Many state agencies require you to report spills that are much below the federal RQ.  A list of state reporting requirements can be found here.
  6. If your spill or chemical release has affected your neighbors in your community, now is the time to be forthright and let your community know what has happened. Do NOT try to stonewall or hide the spills. Your neighbors already know about your spill. So why hide it. Can you imagine how much worse publicity BP would have gotten if it had denied there was an oil spill in the Gulf? They just need to hear from YOU the extent and scope of your accident. Be upfront about it. Don’t try to spin it though some public relations agents. Don’t deny it. If you try to hide it or spin it now, it will only make you look very bad when the truth comes out. And the truth will come out.
  7. Tell your community the steps you are taking to mitigate the spills and any further steps you plan to take to prevent it from happening again. Your neighbors need to know that you are on top of the situation. They need to hear from you directly. Not from some PR spokesman.
  8. Keep your community up-to-date on the mitigation measures you are taking.

Many people are under the misconception that if you are open to the public after the spills, it will invite law suits. That’s not true. If you are going to be sued, you are going to be sued whether you are upfront or not. Being evasive and untruthful will only hurt your credibility and your standing in the community.

Note: The topics of Emergency planning and Community Right to Know are covered in our 2-day environmental compliance seminars. Over 2000 environmental professionals have attended our seminars.

Is BP liable under the Superfund Law?

The short and quick answer is NO. BP is not liable for the spilled oil (petroleum products) under the Superfund Law because of the “Petroleum Exclusion” clause in the law.

Section 101(14) of the Superfund Law specifically excludes “petroleum, including crude oil or any fraction thereof” from the definition of “hazardous substance”. You can only be liable under the Superfund Law if you release hazardous substances to the environment.

Now – does that mean BP is off the hook completely? Not at all. BP is liable under the Clean Water and the Oil Pollution Act – just to name a few environmental laws.

Read my earlier blog on BP’s potential liability.

Is BP’s spilled oil a hazardous waste?

RCRA regulation 40 CFR 261.4(b)(5) states that “drilling fluids, produced waters, and other wastes associated with the exploration, development, or production of crude oil, natural gas or geothermal energy” are solid wastes that are NOT hazardous wastes. In other words, they are exempt from RCRA regulations.

The key term is “associated” or “uniquely associated” as EPA later clarified. The rule of thumb EPA uses to determine if a waste is “uniquely associated” with oil and gas exploration and production is that the waste has to meet either one of the two following conditions:

  1. The waste came from down hole (brought to the surface during oil, gas or geothermal energy exploration, development or production operations).
  2. The waste was generated by contact with the oil, gas, or geothermal energy production stream during the removal of produced water or other contaminants from the well or the product.

Based on this interpretation, the crude oil that has been releasing from the BP exploration well a  mile beneath the ocean would be exempt from RCRA regulations. However, note that these are federal exemptions. Individual states are free to adopt more stringent regulations or reject the federal exemptions altogether.