Category Archives: SPCC

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.”


When do you have to revise your SPCC?

The regulations say that you must revise your SPCC plan if there are “material changes” in your operation. What exactly is “material change”?

If the petroleum product  you store on site changes from diesel to gasoline, you have made a material change in your operation. You have gone from a combustible product to a flammable product. You must revise your plan. If you change your grade of gasoline from one octane to another, that would not be considered to be a material change.

Another point to remember about SPCC is that it refers to the amount of petroleum product you have onsite at any given time. So you are a marketer of gasoline and you purchase 5500 gallons at one time and then you deliver smaller quantities to your customers over the year until you have 500 gallons left onsite. You are still required to have a SPCC plan since you have more than 1320 gallons during the year.

We discuss SPCC requirements at our 2-day environmental seminars.

More lessons from the BP oil Spill

The CEO of BP Oil went before Congress today and testified under oath. For most of the time, he was bobbing and weaving trying to avoid admitting errors – for obvious legal liability reasons. However, there was one statement he made that has a lot of bearing on what we are going to discuss here. He said that accidents happen for two reasons: equipment failure and poor human judgment. That is absolutely TRUE!

So how do we avoid accidents?

To avoid or greatly minimize equipment failure, we need to design the equipment under worst case scenarios. We also need to have a backup system when the “fail-safe” equipment fails. The BP CEO actually said that his “ultimate fail-safe equipment” failed – which lead to the oil spill. Note that there was no relief well designed as part of the deep water well system. That’s why BP is now drilling two relief wells to kill the blown-out well but that won’t be completed until August – 4 months after the blowout and millions of gallons of oil spilled!!!

To combat error in human judgment, the following need to be in place. Employees must receive adequate training to do the job. They must know what to do in case of emergency. The emergency response plan must be realistic and specific to the worst case scenario. It must also be specific to the facility – none of this cut-and-paste stuff. Finally, the management/bonus/reward structure must be designed to discourage corner cutting.

So keep all of this in mind when you prepare your next SPCC plan, your RCRA Contingency Plan and your storm watre pollution prevention plan.

Equipment failure and human error!

What can we learn from the BP oil Spill?

The massive oil spill from BP’s offshore drilling rig began on April 20, 2010.  It is now officially the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.

There will be government investigations into what caused the accident and how it could have been prevented. The federal government has initiated a criminal probe into the accident and a Presidential Commission has been formed to look into the root causes of the incident. Someone will probably end up in jail.

What can we learn from this environmental disaster now? Here are some things that we know for sure at this point.

There is no such thing as a fail-safe system. Engineers and experts have assured the public repeatedly that an accident of such magnitude could never happen or are extremely unlikely to happen. Well it happened. The experts have been proven wrong. In fact BP’s 582-page emergency plan entitled “BP Gulf of Mexico Regional Oil Spill Response Plan” dated June 30, 2009 does not contain specific plans to deal with an accident of this magnitude. According to the plan, the TOTAL worst case discharge from an uncontrolled blowout from an exploratory well off shore was 250,000 barrels. The low estimate from the federal government on the amount of oil spilled is around 20,000 barrels per day. That’s 600,000 barrels per month and the spill began on April 20 with no end in sight.

There was no detailed discussion on how to stop a deep water blowout in the response plan. There were no Plan A, Plan B or Plan C outlined in the plan to address this magnitude of a spill. There was no mention of “Top Hat” or “Top Kill” in the plan. That’s why it has taken BP so long to stop the blowout. In fact, the Financial Times of London quoted BP’s CEO on June 3 as saying it was “entirely fair” to criticize the company’s preparations. The CEO went on to say that “what is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your tool kit.”

The second thing we know is that too many emergency response plans contain a lot of fluff and extraneous material just to make them look substantive and impressive. One would have thought that a 582-page document would have the room to cover ALL possible worst case scenarios – including a blowout of a size that matches what actually happened. But that was not the case.

The 582-page plan was prepared by outside consultants. There is evidence that parts of the BP plan contain boilerplate languages used by other plans elsewhere. One example that has been cited by the media and much to BP’s embarrassment is that the BP plan actually lists walruses as among the Gulf of Mexico’s sensitive biological resources (see section 11 of the report). We all know that walruses live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. They simply do not live in the balmy waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The fact that no one has caught this glaring mistake in the plan during the review process should be a cause of concern. The consultants who prepared this plan has offices in Alaska. A reasonable person could reasonably infer that the reference to walruses came out of a spill response plan that had been prepared for the frigid waters off Alaska. Cutting and pasting did not work this time around. It seldom does, It also tells us that the regulatory agencies responsible for reviewing the BP plan missed the mark by a wide margin.

So what else does this 582 page plan tell us? Size does not matter. It is the content and specifically local contents that really count. Despite its massive volume, the plan contains none of the different remedies that BP has actually tried out since the spill. One valuable lesson we learn from this disaster is that next time when we prepare a spill response plan or a contingency plan we need to focus on site-specific environmental conditions and not pad those plans with boilerplate cut-and-paste languages and fluff. All that flowery language in its 582-page has not helped BP plug that hole. Another valuable lesson we learn is that if we engage the services of an outside consultant or contractor to write our plan, we need to READ it carefully before sending it on to the agencies.

One final lesson we have learned is that if we spend a lot of money to develop a new manufacturing process to make a new widget, we need to also spend some money on how to control the pollution coming out of this new process. That’s one thing the oil industry has failed to do. It spent billions of dollars developing new deep water oil drilling technology without considering new technologies to deal with spills at such great depths.

New SPCC template for Tier 1 facilities

EPA has published an SPCC template for facilities that qualify as Tier I. These facilities do not need to get their SPCC plans certified by a Professional Engineer.

To meet the Tier I applicability criteria, the facility must have:

  1. a total aboveground oil storage capacity of 10,000 U.S. gallons or less;
  2. no aboveground oil storage containers with a capacity greater than 5,000 U.S. gallons; and
  3. in the 3 years prior to the date the SPCC Plan is certified, had no single discharge of oil to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines exceeding 1,000 U.S. gallons, or no two discharges of oil to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines each exceeding 42 U.S. gallons within any 12-month period.*

*Please note: this does not include discharges that are the result of natural disasters, acts of war, or terrorism. When determining the applicability of this SPCC reporting requirement, the gallon amount(s) specified (either 1,000 or 42) refers to the amount of oil that actually reaches navigable waters or adjoining shorelines not the total amount of oil spilled. EPA considers the entire volume of the discharge to be oil for the purposes of these reporting requirements.

Counting oil in an SPCC Plan

Someone asked me the other day if he needed to count the fuel oil in his backup generator towards the 1320 storage threshold for preparing an SPCC.

My answer was yes – if the “oil capacity” in his generator is 55 gallons or more and he is the “owner and operator” of the generator. Note that in SPCC, the term “capacity” refers to the shell capacity – not the actual amount of oil in the container.

See tables below. They are taken from EPA’s Guidance for Regional SPCC Inspectors.

Verizon Wireless and EPA’s corporate audit program

Verizon Wireless has just agreed to pay $468,600 in civil penalty to EPA for a series of violations uncovered in its corporate wide audit at 655 facilities in 42 states. Here is a link to EPA’s press release.

A corporate audit agreement is an agreement that allows corporations, universities or other organizations with many facilities to plan corporate-wide or facility-wide audits with an advance understanding between the entity and EPA regarding schedules for conducting the audit and disclosing violations. EPA factors in the companies’ cooperation and willingness to do the audit voluntarily, and the penalties are typically lower than if the same violations were discovered through enforcement.

Some of the violations that Verizon uncovered included failure to prepare SPCC plans, failure to obtain air permits and failure to file Tier II reports.