The US Federal Water Pollution Control Amendments (Clean Water Act) of 1972, and the subsequent Clean Water Act of 1977 and Water Quality Act of 1987 were enacted with the goal of preventing or minimizing the discharge of toxic or potentially harmful substances onto surface-water bodies. These laws regulate or prohibit the release of water pollutants from individual “point sources” or localized facilities or complexes that store or contain large amounts of toxic or potentially harmful substances. Section 311 of the Clean Water Act expressly prohibits the discharge of oil and hazardous substances into “navigable” fresh or marine bodies of water. Groundwater (or water from underground aquifers) is, in turn, protected from hazardous-substances pollution by the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or the “Superfund”).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the federal institution tasked to implement the provisions of the Clean Water Act with regard to fixed, inland-based, point sources of pollution. In the case of oil pollution, the EPA defines and establishes the specific regulations that attempt to control or manage the release of actual or potential environmental pollutants from fixed or “non-transport-related” facilities, structures, or containers. Fixed facilities that can discharge oil pollutants include airports, onshore and offshore oil drilling rigs, marinas, petroleum-fueled power plants, large generators that consume or store considerable amounts of petroleum liquids, oil refineries, oil depots, oil production wells, as well as pipelines and mobile equipment (rail cars, transport trucks, etc.) that carry or move petroleum products within the confines of the aforementioned fixed facilities/structures. The Department of Transportation is responsible for regulating the discharge of pollutants from mobile vehicles and long-distance transportable containers. The Department of the Interior and the US Coast Guard also have oversight duties on preventing, mitigating, and controlling the discharge of hazardous substances into navigable marine waters.
In order to meet the objectives of the Clean Water Act, the EPA codified Title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which focuses on protection of the environment. Chapter 1 of Title 40, especially Parts 108, 110, 112, 117, 280, and 435.30 to 435.32, provides specific requirements for preventing petroleum and hazardous-substances pollution of surface waters. Part 112 (Oil Pollution Prevention) deals specifically with preventing petroleum and non-petroleum oil pollution. Oil rig workers would find helpful and relevant the information contained in Subpart A, 112.7 (General Requirements for Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plans), Subpart B, 112.8 (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan Requirements for Onshore Facilities, excluding production facilities), Subpart B, 112.10 (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan Requirements for Onshore Oil Drilling and Workover Facilities), Subpart D, 112.20 (Facility Response Plans) and Subpart D, 112.21 (Facility Response Training and Drills/Exercises).
Subpart A, 112.3 (Requirement to Prepare and Implement a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan) and Subpart B, 112.10 (Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Plan Requirements for Onshore Oil Drilling and Workover Facilities) detail the preparation and elaboration of a Spill Prevention Controls and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan, which is incumbent upon the operators or owners of fixed facilities that can become possible point sources of pollution. An SPCC provides detailed information on the physical layout and design of facility structures and equipment and on operational procedures and practices that are supposed to either minimize the possibility of hazardous substance discharge or contain and then eradicate such a discharge (in case it occurs) so as to prevent the intrusion of hazardous/toxic substances into a body of (surface) water. Hazardous substances in this case refer mostly to petroleum-based liquids (e.g., diesel fuel, gasoline, waste engine oil), biogenic oils (vegetable and animal oils), synthetic oils, and other similar materials. Significant discharge of petroleum liquids usually involve accidental spills and leaks, but could also refer to the deliberate pouring, pumping, or dumping of petroleum liquids in such amounts so as to cause measurable negative effects on the quality of the surface water or cause the formation of a reflective layer of oil on the water surface or of a layer of sludge beneath the water surface.
Specifically, the requirement to prepare an SPCC Plan applies to fixed facilities or structures that are involved in the distribution, production, processing, refining, storage, transfer, or utilization of (liquid) oil or oil products in amounts that exceed 1320 gallons (4997 liters) stored or held primarily in aboveground containers, or (for oil stored in completely buried containers) in amounts greater than 42,000 gallons (158,987 liters). The SPCC Plan spells out the means with which a particular facility can prevent, mitigate, and control an oil spill by detailing the design, number, and dimensions of equipment and engineering controls such as fluid-level sensors, gauges, and alarms, fluid flow regulators or shut-off devices, double-walled corrosion-protected or corrosion-resistant storage tanks, secondary containment/catchment ponds or dikes, sump collection tanks with associated pumps, storm drainage filters, entry/access barriers on tanks, valves, switches, and so on. The SPCC Plan also describes the physical layout of the facility and relates the layout to the water runoff (drainage) characteristics of the local terrain and the location of the nearest bodies of water, shorelines, river tributaries, creeks, or swamps, bogs, ponds, prairie potholes, etc. Also included in the plan are descriptions and analyses of potential points of failure, potential spill scenarios, spill response protocols and contingency plans, spill response drills, and also inspections, integrity testing and preventive maintenance procedures on pipes, storage tanks, flow valves, fail-safe control equipment, containment structures etc., phone numbers of local emergency response facilities, regulatory agencies, and spill-cleanup contractors, and also certifications that attest compliance with or exemption from other relevant or complementary regulatory requirements (such as a Facility Response Plan requirement). The SPCC Plan has to be made accessible for reference of all on-site personnel and has to be available for review by EPA representatives on any given day during regular work hours.