Speaking of Spillssss

May 31, 2006
These 10 tips for SPCC compliance and accident preparedness will help you meet the upcoming deadline.

In October 2007, facilities across the country will be staring into the eyes of a looming compliance deadline for SPCC plan changes, wishing they could turn back the clock. Even though facilities have well over a year to prepare, the unfortunate truth is that many will fail to get up to speed in time. The culprit, in most cases, is a failure to plan ahead and stay informed on the new regulations.

The revised SPCC (Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure) rule, which dates back to 1974, became a formalized amendment to the Oil Pollution Prevention regulation in 2002. The objective of the rule is to prevent oil spills from reaching the nation's waters. Unlike contingency plans, which address cleanup measures after a spill has occurred, SPCC plans emphasize preventive measures to avoid spills, or effectively contain and remove them.

Written SPCC plans describe all of an operation's oil storage and spill prevention measures, as well as personnel training and facility security. Prevention measures include an outline of the procedures to be followed by facility personnel in the event of a release. The plan also must include a history of facility spills and any near-miss incidents that have occurred.

Facilities operating before August 2002 are required to amend and implement their existing plans by Oct. 31, 2007. Newer facilities that began operating since 2002 must prepare and implement their plans by the same October deadline. After Oct. 31, any newly established facility must prepare and implement its SPCC plan before it can begin operation.

What You Should Do

The process of meeting any type of compliance deadline has developed a bad reputation, particularly regarding government regulations for facilities. But is the stress really necessary? Staying in touch with the regulations, utilizing engineering and environment consultants and planning ahead can solve many of the problems associated with meeting these requirements. Here are 10 important tips regarding SPCC plans and general accident preparedness:

1. Stay up-to-date with regulations: It sounds simple enough, but too often companies concentrate on other aspects of their operation and miss important rule changes for SPCC plans and other mandates. Environmental contractors and professional engineers are the most valuable information source for keeping informed of all requirements. For example, some operations fail to realize that a secondary containment system must account for, as a general rule, 110 percent of the tank's capacity not the amount that they usually store in the tank. Also, storage tanks that are not in use are still subject to SPCC regulation. Even though the tank does not contain product, it must be accounted for in the SPCC plan, it must possess all of the required containment systems for its capacity and it must undergo integrity testing.

2. Avoid overextending in-house spill teams: It's no secret that internal operations are an important part of preparing for any type of accident, and in-house spill teams often serve a vital purpose. But when an accident occurs, involving facility employees in response efforts, repairs and cleanup work can put otherwise productive workers into unsafe scenarios. Costs associated with medical care, insurance premiums, workers' compensation claims and lost productivity can quickly add up. Preparedness plans should account for the safety and productivity of all staff members.

3. Establish a service agreement with an emergency response contractor: Aside from safety and productivity issues related to handling a spill with internal staff, an agreement with a qualified emergency response contractor ensures that professionals will be on-hand when needed. With an agreement in place, the contractor will become familiar with a facility in advance, knowing the types of materials the operation handles and the secondary containment measures that are in place.

In the event of a spill, a qualified emergency response contractor has the knowledge, training and equipment to take over where the in-house team leaves off, allowing the crew to get back to work. These contractors have hours of experience with cleanup and disposal, as well as providing project reports and other documentation that will need to be included in the facility's spill response record. They also offer valuable training and encouragement for in-house response teams during training and drill exercises.

4. Don't wait until the last minute: In business, there are few things more expensive than rushed work. Planning ahead and making sure required measures are in place well-ahead of deadlines removes the sense of urgency and often avoids unnecessary costs. Too often, companies choose to implement a testing program or install a secondary containment system at the eleventh hour, only to realize the extent of the project is greater than was anticipated. Working well-ahead of deadlines ensures the correct plans and systems are in place on time.

5. Plan efficiently: Operating with a strategic mindset is always an important consideration. Planning for future regulatory requirements is an opportunity to save money and headaches. For example, a facility may not be required to install a containment dike around a small storage tank at this time, but performing the work now may save thousands of dollars in the near future. Working with experts like professional engineers and environmental contractors ensures efficient planning for future upgrades and modifications.

6. Obtain PE certification: The most thorough, by-the-book, well-prepared SPCC plan can fall short of its goal and open an operation to liabilities and fines if it has not been properly examined and certified by a professional engineer (PE). Regulations allow a facility's SPCC plan to be written by the owner or operator of the facility or their authorized environmental consultant, engineer or scientist, but in the end it must be certified by a PE who has examined the facility. The engineer's certification attests that the SPCC plan has been prepared in accordance with good engineering practices.

7. Prepare for EPA inspections: To ensure that facilities comply with spill prevention regulations, the EPA periodically conducts on-site inspections. While most EPA visits are scheduled in advance, the agency occasionally conducts unannounced inspections to gauge a facility's level of preparedness. The inspector may ask to review the SPCC plan and the facility response plan, as well as conduct a facility walk-through to verify that measures are in place. If the inspector identifies an issue of non-compliance, he or she has the authority to assess an administrative penalty.

But keep in mind that the EPA's primary goal is to ensure compliance, and therefore strives to work proactively with facilities that act in a conscientious manner. Often, facilities that have a service agreement with an environmental contractor are, in effect, demonstrating their willingness to cooperate. These facilities will refer the inspector to the contractor, allowing issues to be addressed and resolved quickly, many times without fines or repeated EPA visits.

8. Communicate: Communication is essential for any type of accident prevention or disaster plan. When communication fails, planning fails. When a facility drafts a new plan, makes revisions or institutes new countermeasures it must ensure that everyone involved is aware of the changes, including why they were made and who is responsible for oversight. Most importantly, communication between the facility and the emergency response contractor will ensure the operation is up-to-date on the latest rules and is well-prepared for potential accidents.

9. Review your plan after an event: It is important for facilities to review their SPCC plans after any type of spill or near-miss incidents. The review should include examining what took place, whether the countermeasures were effective and if any adjustments to the plan or changes to the facility are necessary.

10. Utilize preparedness drills: Practice makes perfect. Facilities should ensure that proper drills are part of their SPCC plans as well as their overall emergency preparedness strategy. Most importantly, they should not limit participation to internal teams. Instead, they should open their doors to their environmental contractors and professional engineers to receive important advice on preventing and managing accidents of all types. They also should consider including area firefighters and emergency medical services. Allowing these first responders to become familiar with a facility could prevent injuries and substantial property loss if they are called upon during a real emergency.

Sidebar: Frequently Asked SPCC Questions

Who is affected by SPCC requirements?

1.) Facilities that meet the following criteria are subject to SPCC regulations:
2.) Facilities that are non-transportation-related, meaning they are not moveable railroad cars, tank trucks, etc.
3.) Facilities that have an above-ground storage capacity greater than 660 gallons in a single container, or an aggregate storage capacity greater than 1,320 gallons, or a total underground storage capacity greater than 42,000 gallons
4.) Facilities that pose a reasonable expectation of a discharge that can reach navigable waters or adjoining shorelines of the United States

What stored products are affected by SPCC requirements?

SPCC regulations concern storage of any product that can be generically described as "oil." This includes synthetic oils, vegetable oils, non-vegetable oils and others, in addition to standard petroleum products.

What are the compliance deadlines?

Facilities operating before Aug. 16, 2002, are required to amend and implement their existing plans by Oct. 31, 2007.
Facilities that began operating after Aug. 16, 2002, must prepare and implement their plans by Oct. 31, 2007.
New facilities that plan to begin operating after Oct. 31, 2007, must prepare and implement SPCC plans before beginning operations.

What are the general requirements of a written SPCC plan?

SPCC plans are a description of all the measures a facility takes to prevent a release of oil. The plan should encompass facility operations and staffing, and outline all areas of oil storage and transfer. It also should include a list of procedures that must be followed to halt, contain and clean up a spill, as well as a history and all documentation of past spills and employee training drills. Specific information about each storage container, such as its secondary containment system and the direction of flow, also should be included. All plans must be certified by a professional engineer.

For complete information, visit www.epa.gov/oilspill, or contact a qualified environmental contractor or a professional engineer.

Joe Lorenz has more than 16 years of experience leading environmental cleanup and emergency response contracts as well as soil and water remediation and construction projects. He is president and CEO of PRO-TERRA Environmental Contracting Co., based in Columbus, Ohio. Lorenz frequently writes for industry publications on an array of environmental cleanup experiences and techniques. For more information, visit www.proterra-ec.com, or contact him at (614) 443-3737 or [email protected].

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