Spills and Responsibility


An outline of who is responsible for fuel spills and countermeasure plans
by Gary Mazza

Consultant Gary Mazza asks the question, Is your facility required to have a SPCC or FRP? If so, Mazza offers a primer on what the objectives of a spill prevention control and countermeasure plan should be, and outlines the facility response plan requirements for fuel facilities.

In August of 1990, Congress amended the Clean Water Act by creating the Oil Pollution Act mainly in response to the public's concern regarding the Exxon Valdez incident. These amendments expanded the ability of the federal government to prevent and respond to oil spills. These amendments also increased the penalties for non-compliance and broadened the response and enforcement authorities of the federal government.

As part of the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) plan to reduce and prevent oil releases from reaching the waters of our nation, EPA requires that certain facilities develop, maintain, and implement a Spill Prevention, Control and Counter-measure Plan (SPCC) and a Facility Response Plan (FRP).


Federal Regulation 40 CFR 112 provides the foundation and guidelines for development of an SPCC Plan with regard to petroleum products (as well as hazardous materials). The SPCC Plan establishes written procedures, methods, necessary equipment, containment, and other countermeasures to prevent the discharge of petroleum products from a storage facility.

In accordance with the regulations, an SPCC Plan must be written and certified by a licensed professional engineer when one of the following requirements is met:

  • There is a reasonable potential for discharging oil from a fixed storage facility into waters of the U.S.; and/or
  • The oil storage capacity on site exceeds either 42,000 gallons of total underground storage, or 1,320 gallons of total aboveground storage, or any single container having a capacity in excess of 660 gallons.

The SPCC Plan is amended in accordance with the regulations if there is a change in facility design, construction, operation, or maintenance, which will affect the potential for an oil discharge from the facility into navigable waters of the United States or adjoining shorelines.

Plan amendments must be implemented in their entirety, as soon as possible, but not later than six months after such a change occurs. No amendment to the SPCC Plan will satisfy the regulations unless a professional engineer has certified it. The plan must also be reviewed, evaluated, and certified every three years, even if there are no changes to report.

In accordance with the regulations, owners or operators of facilities who violate the requirements by failing to or refusing to comply with any of the provisions are liable to a civil penalty of not more than $5,000 for each day a violation continues.

In July of 1994, amendments were made to 40 CFR 112 identifying criteria to be used to determine whether or not a facility is a "substantial harm facility" and therefore subject to additional requirements. If a fuel storage facility meets the "substantial harm" criteria defined by 40 CFR 9 and 112, a separate Facility Response Plan (FRP) will be required. If a facility develops a FRP, the facility's SPCC Plan should be referred to primarily for information on designated equipment, procedures, and available resources to address a spill.


The purpose of a FRP is to document proper containment measures and precautions to prevent the discharge of oil and other petroleum products from a fuel storage facility to the environment and navigable waters of the United States. A FRP is developed to comply with the requirements of 40 CFR 9 and 112.

Who should prepare an FRP? If you answer yes to one of the following, your facility must develop a FRP:

  • Does your facility transfer oil over water to and/or from vessels and does the facility have a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 42,000 gallons?
  • Does your facility have a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 1 million gallons and does the facility lack secondary containment that is necessary to contain the capacity of the largest aboveground oil storage tank plus sufficient freeboard to allow for precipitation within any aboveground storage tank area?
  • Does your facility have a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 1 million gallons and is the facility located a distance (calculated using the EPA's formula) such that a discharge from the facility could cause potential injury to fish and wildlife and sensitive environments.
  • Does your facility have a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 1 million gallons and is the facility located a distance (calculated using the EPA's appropriate formula) such that a discharge from the facility would shut down a public drinking water intake?
  • Does your facility have a total oil storage capacity greater than or equal to 1 million gallons and has the facility experienced a reportable oil spill in an amount greater than or equal to 10,000 gallons within the last 5 years?

In order to meet the requirements, an FRP must include, but not be limited to, the following:

  • an emergency response action plan;
  • facility information (i.e., owner/operator name and address, location, SIC code, date of startup, storage capacity, current operations, and designated responsible person);
  • emergency response information, hazard evaluation, discharge scenarios, discharge detection/prevention system, plan implementation, self inspection, drill and exercises;
  • response training, facility diagrams (site location plan, site evacuation plan, site piping plan, and site drainage plan), security; and
  • acronyms or references mentioned in the plan.

It should be noted that some states require additional plans to the FRP and SPCC (i.e. The Commonwealth of Virginia under regulation 9 VAC 25-91-10 requires that any facility having an aggregate aboveground maximum storage or handling capacity of equal to or greater than 25,000 gallons of oil shall develop and implement an Oil Discharge Contingency Plan). Check with your local state.

Having these plans in place is of paramount importance, as a recent EPA investigation has revealed a large increase in compliance issues, related to such events as pipeline leaks, aboveground/underground storage tank overfills and structure leaks, leaking valves and illegal discharge of oil and other petroleum products.

TRI Reporting - Who Is Responsible

In 1986, Congress passed Section 313, the Emergency Planning & Community Right-To-Know Act (EPCRA). Through this act, Congress transformed voluntary reporting programs, including the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) into mandatory reporting programs.

TRI is an annual computerized database consisting of toxic chemical pollution released into the environment from a variety of different facilities. The purpose of this annual reporting to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and subsequent sharing of the information with the public, is to analyze and monitor a facility's progress in reducing pollution. This helps inform and educate local communities with their emergency planning and pollution prevention activities. The EPA does not use data in these reports to penalize companies for pollution violations; however they can penalize companies for not reporting on an annual basis.

EPA can assess civil penalties for not reporting. A company that does not comply with this law is liable for up to $25,000 a day for each violation. In addition to the penalties assessed by the EPA, private citizens may file lawsuits to force a company to comply with the law.

In 1997, EPCRA added 7 new industrial sectors designated by the Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code, as well as 286 new chemicals to the EPCRA's Section 313 list. The aviation industry is affected by this change as airport fuel facilities are classified as petroleum bulk stations and terminals under SIC code 5171. This requires owner/operators of airport fuel facilities to comply under the EPCRA Section 313 (TRI) reporting requirements and file Form R and/or Form A certification statements. Only those fuel facilities that meet all of the following criteria must report, regardless of whether a facility releases any amount of the listed chemical into any environmental medium:

  • SIC code 5171 classification;
  • Employs 10 or more full-time employees;
  • Manufactures, processes or otherwise uses any EPCRA Section 313 chemicals. The following chemicals are likely to be present above De minimis concentrations at fuel facilities;
  • Gasoline constituents- benzene, ethylbenzene, MTBE, -hexane, toluene, xylene,1,2,4-trimethylbenzene
  • No. 2 Fuel Oil/ Diesel Fuel - n-hexane, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene
  • No. 6 Fuel Oil - (PACs)
  • Crude oil - benzene, n-hexane, xylene
  • Kerosene - toluene
  • Aviation gas - benzene, toluene, xylene, napthalene
  • Jet fuel - benzene, n-hexane, toluene, xylene, cyclohexane
  • Solvents - n-butyl alcohol, dichloromethane, -hexane, phosphoric acid, cyclohexane, and tert-butyl alcohol
  • Lubrication oils - zinc compounds
  • Cleaning/disinfectants - chlorine, chlorine dioxide, formaldehyde, nitric acid, phosphoric acid, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane
  • Exceeds any of the activity thresholds for an EPCRA Section 313 chemical, i.e. the manufacture or processing of 25,000 pounds or usage 10,000 pounds per year.

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Please make note that your facility becomes a manufacturing site simply by the production of nitrogen compounds in a wastewater treatment system (such as an oil/water separator) and/or a processing site simply by transferring from storage tank to tank truck and then distributing the product for commerce.

During preparation of the TRI report, facilities are instructed to use the best "readily available data" or best "reasonable estimates". The TRI report must be submitted on or before July 1 each year and lists activities that occurred at the facility during the previous year.