Oil Spill

Question: Recently, a manufacturing plant in our town had an oil release to a nearby creek.


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Recently, a manufacturing plant in our town had an oil release to a nearby creek. While the oil spill was contained and caused little environmental damage, our newspaper reported yesterday that the facility was fined for failure to have an Oil SPCC plan. I never heard of this regulation. Our facility performs machining of ferrous and aluminum parts so we have a fair amount of oils and water-soluble oils on site. Can you give us some guidance? C.W.


USEPA’s Oil Pollution regulations, specifically regarding Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans, have been around since the early 1970s and can be found in USEPA’s regulations 40CFR112.

These regulations were totally rewritten in 2002. After a number of delays for final implementation, affected facilities must develop or revise their SPCC plans no later than February 17, 2006 and implement the plan no later than August 18, 2006.

While the revised regulation was designed to reduce the regulatory burden by exempting “small” containers, less than 55 gallons, and several other changes, it is more expansive and stringent in other provisions that can impact the metal finishing industry. In particular, the “old” SPCC regulations focused on oil that was “stored” while the revised regulations also include oil that is “used’ or “consumed.”

Furthermore, oils not only include lubricating oils and fuels, but also water-soluble oils, even diluted water-soluble oils used in machining and process dip tanks.

In summary, for metal finishing facilities, the Oil SPCC plan applies to your facility if:

  1. Your facility discharges OR has the potential to discharge into the “navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines”; this pretty much includes the entire country, although there may be areas of the arid southwest, for example, where a case could be made that there is no potential of discharge to “navigable waters” since there is no or no potential of drainage off-site; furthermore, we have had a few cases where the facility’s storm water discharged into a combined (sanitary and storm) sewer and EPA held that a SPCC plan is needed since there is a potential of oil discharge to surface waters through combined sewer overflows (CSOs) during storm events, and
  2. You have more than 42,000 gallons of underground oil storage, unless the tanks are regulated by USEPA’s underground storage tank regulations (40CFR280 and 281); for example, diesel fuel is regulated while heating oil is not, or
  3. You have more than 1,320 gallons of oil in above ground containers, counting only those containers of 55 gallons or more in capacity. “Containers” include hydraulic system, drums, tanks, totes, process tanks, reservoirs, and facility-owned electrical transformers.

If you find that you are over the above thresholds, especially for above ground containers, your first strategy should be to determine if you can improve your oil inventory management by reducing volumes to less than 1,320 gallons.

Secondly, if you find that the Oil SPCC plan applies to you, you should consider combining it with other environmental plans, such as Spill and Slug Control, Storm Water Pollution Prevention, and/or hazardous waste contingency plans, into a single pollution prevention plan.

Assuming that you need to create and implement an Oil SPCC Plan, you should engage the services of a professional engineer early in the project. While the regulations do not require the SPCC plan to be prepared by a professional engineer (P.E.), it does require the plan to be “certified” by a P.E.; based upon USEPA’s certification requirements, an ethical P.E. could not just review and stamp the plan, but must be engaged in its preparation. On a practical matter, why go through the trouble of putting a plan together, and, then have a P.E. require that you make major revisions to it in order to comply with USEPA requirements, many which are based upon the “best engineering judgment” of the P.E.

The Oil SPCC Plan has a number of requirements, including:

  1. Use USEPA format or cross-reference plan provisions to applicable regulation sections
  2. Containment required to prevent oil from leaving site
  3. Bulk storage tanks to have secondary containment, compatible materials, high level alarm, high level fill cutoff, inspec- tions, and, possibly, integrity testing, depending upon size and construction of tank
  4. Containment of containers,
  5. Possible containment of oil delivery trucks
  6. Design, operation, and inspection of piping
  7. Spill response and reporting proce- dures
  8. Inspections and testing
  9. Security
  10. Training
  11. Criteria for amendments to plan, and
  12. Scheduled dates for corrective actions (USEPA requires all corrective action to be completed within six (6) months of plan date).

For more information and specifics, you can visit USEPA’s web page at www.epa.gov/oilspill/spcc.htm. Hope this summary helped.


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