Oil Pollution Regulation

For state-by-state regulatory information concerning above- and below-ground petroleum storage tanks, use the Petroleum Storage Tanks State Resource Locator.
Spill Prevention

Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule and the Facility Response Plan (FRP) Rule

The Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule (issued under CWA Section 311 and published at 40 CFR part 112) includes requirements to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. In 1990, the Oil Pollution Act amended the Clean Water Act, resulting in new regulatory requirements in 40 CFR part 112 requiring certain high risk oil storage facilities to develop Facility Response Plans (FRPs). These plans require facilities to prepare, submit and respond to oil discharges to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.

The following topics are discussed below:

Prevention - SPCC Requirements

SPCC requirements typically do not apply to the dry gas production operations. However, if a natural gas production operation stores sufficient liquid oil condensate to exceed the regulatory thresholds, then it may be subject to SPCC. For example, wet gas production facilities may generate liquid oil condensate through the separation process at the tank battery and if the storage capacity of the container exceeds the regulatory threshold, then the facility may be subject to the SPCC rule. Additionally, the processing of natural gas at a gas processing plant, in an effort to remove impurities, may also result in the generation and storage of liquid oil condensate in quantities that exceed the regulatory threshold and thus these non-production processing operations may be regulated by the SPCC rule. For more information on the applicability of the SPCC rule and gas processing plants see the EPA letter to API on the issue. Finally, the SPCC rule will typically apply to gas drilling and workover activities when the drill rig's oil storage capacity and other petroleum oil storage on a pad site exceeds the applicability threshold.

A key element of the SPCC rule requires facilities to develop, maintain and implement an oil spill prevention plan, called an SPCC Plan. These plans help facilities prevent oil spills, as well as control a spill should one occur. A natural gas production, drilling, workover or gas processing plant is subject to SPCC requirements if the facility:

  • Is non-transportation-related,

  • Could reasonably be expected to discharge oil in harmful quantities in to or upon the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines, and

  • Has (1) a total completely buried oil storage capacity of greater than 42,000 gallons; or (2) a total aboveground oil storage capacity of greater than 1,320 gallon.

SPCC Thresholds and Container Storage Capacity Calculations

Determining SPCC storage capacity is based upon the total volume of the storage container and not "safe" operating capacity or other lesser operational volumes. A production facility, as defined in the SPCC rule, is all structures (including but not limited to wells, platforms, or storage facilities), piping (including but not limited to flowlines or intra-facility gathering lines), or equipment (including but not limited to workover equipment, separation equipment, or auxiliary non-transportation-related equipment) used in the production, extraction, recovery, lifting, stabilization, separation or treating of oil (including condensate), or associated storage or measurement, and is located in an oil or gas field.

Prevention - SPCC Plan Requirements

All facilities subject to SPCC requirements must prepare a site-specific spill prevention plan that incorporates the general requirements for all facilities found in 40 CFR Part 112.7. Then you must also comply with the applicable facility specific requirements located in 40 CFR part 112.8, 112.9 112.10 or 112.11 (depending on facility type/location). For drilling workover and production facilities, these include considerations for the following processes and procedures:

  • Drainage
  • Tank materials
  • Secondary containment
  • Blow out prevention devices for drilling and workover operations
  • Visual inspection of tanks
  • Fail-safe engineering methods for tank battery installations
  • Tank repair and maintenance
  • Facility transfer operations
  • Inspection and testing measures
  • Record-keeping
  • Personnel training.

In addition, the plan must discuss spill history and spill prediction (i.e., the anticipated direction of flow). The SPCC Plan must be approved by a registered Professional Engineer (PE) who is familiar with SPCC requirements, be fully implemented, and be modified when changes are made to the facility that may materially affect the potential for an oil discharge (e.g., installation of a new tank). EPA has recently revised the SPCC rule to allow the owner or operator of a facility that meets certain eligibility criteria to certify their SPCC Plan without a PE. A certain portion of the natural gas operations may qualify for these streamlined regulatory options (see below). Regardless of whether changes have been made to the facility, the plan must be reviewed at least once every five years, and amended if new, field-proven technology may reduce the likelihood of a spill. The SPCC must be available onsite for review by EPA or other inspectors.

SPCC Plan and Drilling/Workover Equipment

The SPCC Plan must also address oil (or gas) drilling and workover facility equipment. These plans require that the equipment be positioned or located to prevent spilled oil from reaching navigable waters, that catchment basins or diversionary structures be in place, and that blowout preventers (BOPs) are installed according to state regulatory requirements. The facility must also comply with the general requirements of the rule at 112.7 and then also comply with the specific rule requirements found at 112.10 or 112.11 (depending on the location of the facility).

The SPCC rule has streamlined requirements for facilities with smaller oil storage capacity that have not had oil discharges (spills). The owner or operator of a "qualified facility" can prepare and self-certify an SPCC Plan rather than have a PE review and certify the Plan. There are tiers for qualified facilities, Tier I and II. To determine if you have a qualified facility you need to know the total capacity of aboveground oil storage containers at the facility and information on oil discharges from the facility for the past three years.

If the facility total aboveground oil storage capacity is 10,000 gallons or less ...

And ...

And the facility has ...

Then the facility is a:

In the three years before the SPCC Plan is certified, the facility has had no oil discharges to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines as described below:

  • A single discharge of oil greater than 1,000 gallons, or

  • Two discharges of oil each greater than 42 gallons within any 12-month period.

No individual aboveground oil containers greater than 5,000 gallons;

Tier I Qualified Facility:
Complete and self-certify Plan template (Appendix G to 40 CFR part 112) in lieu of a full PE-certified Plan or other self-certified SPCC Plan.

Any individual aboveground oil container greater than 5,000 gallons;

Tier II Qualified Facility:
Prepare a self-certified Plan in accordance with all applicable requirements of Section 112.7 and subparts B or C of the rule, in lieu of a PE-certified Plan.

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.

A Tier II qualified facility must prepare and implement an SPCC Plan that follows all of the rule requirements in 40 CFR 112; however, the owner or operator can self-certify the facility SPCC Plan and future amendments to the Plan instead of having the SPCC Plan reviewed and certified by a PE.

A Tier I qualified facility can complete and self-certify the SPCC Plan template found in Appendix G of 40 CFR part 112. The Plan template is a simple SPCC Plan that includes only the requirements that apply to this tier of regulated facilities. The Plan template is available, in several formats. The completed and certified template serves as the SPCC Plan for the facility. A Tier I qualified facility can certify any future amendments to the SPCC Plan.

Which SPCC rules typically apply to the natural gas industry?

The following is a summary of SPCC regulations that typically apply to the land-based natural gas extraction and production sector:

  • 40 CFR 112.1-7 - Applies to all facilities meeting the regulatory applicability requirements. (112.6 is a regulatory option addressing Qualified facilities)

  • 40 CFR 112.8 - Applies to onshore facilities (excluding production facilities) For example onshore gas plants and gas pipeline pump/compressor stations or non-production related activities at production operation (such as company fleet fueling station located at a production site)

  • 40 CFR 112.9 - Applies to onshore oil production facilities (excluding drilling and workover facilities). This may apply also in wet gas production facilities producing and storing liquid condensate in quantities exceeding the regulatory thresholds.

  • 40 CFR 112.10 - Applies to onshore oil drilling and workover facilities.. For example an onshore drilling or workover rig at a gas exploration site.

  • 40 CFR 112.11 - Applies to offshore oil drilling, production, or workover facilities. For example any offshore gas related activities occurring landward of the coastline.

Preparedness - Facility Response Planning

SPCC-regulated facilities may also be subject to Facility Response Plan (FRP) requirements if they could reasonably be expected to cause "substantial harm" to the environment by discharging oil into or on navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. The determination of a "substantial harm" facility is made on the basis of meeting of the following criteria:

  • Has a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 42,000 gallons and it transfers oil over water to/from vessels; or
  • Has a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to one million gallons and meets one of the following conditions:
    • Does not have sufficient secondary containment for each aboveground storage area.
    • Is located at a distance such that a discharge from the facility could cause "injury" to fish, wildlife, and sensitive environments.
    • Is located at a distance such that a discharge from the facility would shut down a public drinking water intake.
    • Has had, within the past five years, a reportable discharge greater than or equal to 10,000 gallons.

The Oil Pollution Prevention regulation (40 CFR 112.20) provides detailed information on these criteria. The rule includes two methods by which a facility may be identified as posing substantial harm:

  • Through a self-selection process based on the substantial harm criteria above; or
  • By a determination of the EPA Regional Administrator.

The EPA Regional Administrator may consider factors similar to the self-selection criteria, as well as other factors, including:

  • Type of transfer operations
  • Oil storage capacity
  • Lack of secondary containment
  • Proximity to fish, wildlife, and sensitive environments or drinking-water intakes
  • Spill history

In addition, the EPA Regional Administrator may determine that a facility poses significant and substantial harm. Facilities that pose significant and substantial harm must have their plans reviewed and approved by EPA.

If the facility is found to be subject to FRP requirements, either through a self-assessment or by EPA Regional Administrator determination, the facility would be required to develop an FRP which would include, among other requirements:

  • An emergency response action plan
  • Identification of small, medium and worst-case discharge scenarios and appropriate response actions;
  • A description of discharge detection procedures and equipment;
  • Detailed implementation plans for containment and disposal;
  • Facility diagrams that illustrate the surrounding layout, topography, and evacuation paths; and
  • Employee training, and a drill and exercise program.

FRPs must be submitted to EPA for review and be periodically updated.

Response - What if there is an oil discharge (spill)?

Should a spill occur despite precautions, established responses should be undertaken. If the facility is subject to the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation, the facility will be equipped with secondary containment and diversionary structures to prevent the spill from reaching drains, ditches, rivers, and navigable waters. These structures may be berms, retention ponds, absorbent material, weirs, booms, or other barriers or equivalent preventive systems. Should these secondary containment devices not be adequate, the response should be to stop the flow of oil, recover as much oil as possible of, then minimize the impacts on navigable waterways, adjoining shorelines or groundwater.

Reporting oil spills

Any person in charge of a vessel or an onshore or offshore facility must immediately report discharges to the National Response Center (NRC) at 1-800-424-8802 or 1-202-426-2675. The NRC is the federal government's centralized reporting center, which is staffed 24 hours per day by U.S. Coast Guard personnel. If reporting directly to NRC is not practicable, reports also can be made to the EPA regional office or the U.S. Coast Guard Marine Safety Office (MSO) in the area where the incident occurred. NRC personnel will ask a caller to provide as much information about the incident as possible including:

  • Name, organization, and telephone number
  • Name and address of the party responsible for the incident
  • Date and time of the incident
  • Location of the incident
  • Source and cause of the discharge
  • Types of material(s) discharged
  • Quantity of materials discharged
  • Danger or threat posed by the discharge
  • Number and types of injuries (if any)
  • Weather conditions at the incident location and
  • Other information to help emergency personnel respond to the incident

Additionally, if a facility is regulated under the SPCC rule the facility owner or operator may also be required to submit a report to the EPA Regional Administrator when oil is discharged to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines as follows:

  • A single discharge greater than 1,000 U.S. gallons or
  • Two discharges, each greater than 42 U.S. gallons occurring within any twelve-month period

Finally, there may be other Federal, State and Local oil spill reporting requirements depending on facility locations.

State Authorization

Implementation of CWA Section 311 cannot be delegated to states or tribes.  However, states or tribes may implement their own oil spill prevention and spill notification requirements that may be consistent or more stringent to the SPCC rule.  Please check with your state or tribal government to see if they have any state- or tribe-only requirements related to prevention and control of oil and associated reporting of discharges/spills.

More Resources

Additional SPCC Rule Reference Material (EPA). Reference material provided on this web page may help facilities better understand SPCC requirements and EPA's positions on the implementation of the SPCC rule.

Facility Response Planning (EPA, Aug. 2002). This guide is part of a series of compliance assistance guides that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) developed in order to help owners and operators of facilities that store or use oil, as well as other interested people, to better understand the Federal Oil Pollution Prevention regulation.

Oil Pollution Prevention Regulation Overview (EPA). The Oil Pollution Prevention regulation sets forth requirements for prevention of, preparedness for, and response to oil discharges at specific non-transportation-related facilities.

SPCC for the Upstream Sector - Production, Drilling, and Workover (EPA). Various EPA resources, including a SPCC template.

Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule (EPA). The SPCC rule includes requirements for oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response to prevent oil discharges to navigable waters and adjoining shorelines.

SPCC Guidance for Regional Inspectors (https://www.epa.gov/oil-spills-prevention-and-preparedness-regulations/spcc-guidance-regional-inspectors )

In August 2013, EPA revised the SPCC Guidance for Regional Inspectors. This guidance is intended to assist regional inspectors in reviewing a facility's implementation of the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule at 40 CFR part 112 (PDF) (117 pp, 4.3 MB, About PDF). This document is also available to owners and operators of facilities that may be subject to the requirements of the SPCC rule and the general public. The document is designed to provide a consistent national policy on several SPCC-related issues.




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