Oil Regulation

Question Recently, I read an article that stated EPA has some new oil pollution prevention regulations.


Recently, I read an article that stated EPA has some new oil pollution prevention regulations. After reading the article, I still was not sure if these new regulations applied to our facility. We use oil in our hydraulic presses and generate used oil, which is shipped off-site for recycling. Could you provide any clarification? R.Y.


What you are referring to are EPA’s Oil Pollution Prevention regulations found in 40CFR112; these are also known as Oil SPCC (Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure) Plan regs. These regs are not really new since they were originally promulgated by EPA in 1974 and in effect since then. In 1991, 1993, and 1997, EPA proposed revisions to these regulations. Finally, on July 17, 2002, EPA finalized its major rewriting and reorganization of these regulations that became effective on August 16, 2002.

To determine if this regulation applies to your facility, you need to answer three questions:

    1.Is your facility engaged in drilling, producing, gathering, storing, processing, refining, transferring, distributing, USING, and consuming oil and oil products?
    2.If “yes” to question 1, due to your facility’s location, could it “reasonably” be expected to discharge oil to surface waters in quantities that may be harmful? and
    3.If “yes” to question 2, does your facility have more than 42,000 gal of oil storage capacity that is “completely buried” and NOT subject to EPA’s underground storage tank regulations (40CFR Part 280), OR does your facility have more than 1,320 gal of aboveground oil storage capacity NOT counting containers less than 55 gal?

If you answer “yes” to all three questions, then you are required to develop and implement an Oil SPCC Plan. Let me explain the above three questions in more detail.

For metal forming and finishing operations, one of the significant changes that can impact your applicability is that in these new regs EPA includes “using” oil, while the old regs described “storing” oil. Therefore, when evaluating your facility for question 3, you must include any oil-containing equipment that has a capacity of 55 gal or more. Examples of operating equipment include hydraulic systems, facility owned oil-filled electrical transformers, machining coolant reservoirs, and water-soluble oil dip tanks. Yes, even if you have a tank of 10% water soluble oil mixture, you must count the entire volume of the tank. Furthermore, EPA defines oil as “petroleum, fuel oil, sludge, synthetic oils, mineral oils, oil refuse, or oil mixed with wastes other than dredged spoil.”

When examining question 2, you must NOT consider any manmade features such as dikes, floors, equipment or other structures that may serve to restrain, hinder, or otherwise prevent an oil discharge. Second, even if an oil release would be discharged to a sanitary or combined (storm and sanitary) sewer that flows to a wastewater treatment facility, EPA holds that not only are these manmade structures, but also there is a “reasonable” possibility that the oil could be discharged to surface waters because of deliberate bypassing of the oily discharge to protect the wastewater treatment facility, pass through of the oily wastewater discharge, or overflow discharge of the sewer system due to rain. Third, even if your site drains into the ground due to its geology, you must determine if your site’s groundwater flows to a surface water, even a surface water miles away. As far as releasing oil “in quantities that may be harmful,” the Clean Water Act (Sec 311(b)) establishes that there shall be “no discharges of oil or hazardous substances into or upon the navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shoreline.” Basically, this means if the oil discharge causes an oil sheen on the water, it is “in quantities that may be harmful.” And as far as what defines a “navigable waters,” the courts have held that if a surface water can float and carry away a stick, even for short seasonal periods throughout the year, it is a “navigable water.” As you can tell, it is a very rare facility that can answer “no” to question 2.

Let’s look at question 3. To be a “completely buried tank,” the tank must be “completely below grade and covered with earth, sand, gravel, asphalt, or other material.” Tanks that are partially buried, bunkered (that is above or partially above grade but covered with earth, sand, gravel, or other materials), or located in vaults are considered aboveground storage tanks when evaluating this question. Underground oil storage tanks that are subject to EPA’s underground storage tank regulations are NOT to be included in your count of underground storage volume and include, but are not limited to, tanks containing diesel fuel, oil, waste oil, and gasoline. Examples of underground tanks that contain oil but are NOT subject to EPA’s underground storage tank regulations and, therefore, need to be counted include fuel oil for boilers or tanks holding 110 gallons or less. Lastly, when evaluating the capacity of the tank or container, you must include the tank or container’s entire volume, even if the tank or container is never filled to its capacity or holds any oil for short and infrequent periods of time. For an operating system, such as a hydraulic system of a stamping press, you must include not only the entire volume of the reservoir but also the piping. Only “permanently closed” tanks and containers can be excluded from your count.

Unless you feel quite comfortable evaluating your facility, I recommend that you hire a professional engineer experienced in oil SPCC issues to perform the evaluation. The vast majority of metal finishing facilities can be evaluated in less than one day.

If you find that your facility does require an Oil SPCC Plan, the plan must be prepared by or under the direction of and certified by a professional engineer (P.E.). Facilities that were operational before August 16, 2002 must have their Oil SPCC Plan prepared no later than February 17, 2003 and the plan implemented no later than August 18, 2003. For facilities that become operational after August 16, 2002, their Oil SPCC plan must be prepared and implemented no later than August 18, 2003 or the date that the facility begins operations, whichever is later.

For more information on this issue, you can visit EPA’s SPCC page.