Are you keeping adequate inspection records as part of your SPCC Plan?

January 20, 2014

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that oil production facilities and sites with bulk oil storage capacity must maintain a comprehensive Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan.

This blog has previously offered information about a number of specific aspects of maintaining compliance with the EPA's SPCC Rule, including the need to account for mobile refuelers when designing secondary containment systems. We've also discussed SPCC requirements that are unique to farms.

Recent research sheds some light on one part of the SPCC Rule that may often go overlooked — its record keeping requirements — as well as the potential costs of noncompliance. An article published by Environmental Leader looked at some of the findings of this study.

Just how costly is failing to maintain an SPCC Plan?

In cases where a covered facility is found to have no SPCC Plan in place, the minimum fine is $1,500 — even if there has never been a spill at the site. If a facility experiences a spill and does not have a compliant response plan, total penalties can amount to almost $40,000 per day until the situation is resolved. There is no cap on the total amount a facility can be fined in this case.

Penalties for violations of the SPCC Rule's record keeping provisions may be less severe, but that does not mean the agency isn't serious about enforcement. The study referenced by Environmental Leader looked at "expedited settlements" reached between the EPA and 93 separate facilities during the first half of 2013. Altogether, these facilities were cited for more than 500 distinct violations of the SPCC Rule, including more than 100 citations related to inadequate record keeping.

Bulk storage facilities accounted for 281 citations and more than 10 percent of the underlying violations involved inspections of storage tanks. Some facilities did not have the full three years' worth of records required by the EPA, while others had no records at all. Other citations focused on specific shortcomings, such as not including inspections of tanks' foundations and other physical supports, or failing to document structural deterioration, discharges or accumulations of oil.

Among the 276 citations given to onshore oil production facilities, more than half were for failing to maintain inspection records or collect pertinent environmental information. Specific violations included failing to perform scheduled inspections of aboveground valves and pipelines, and visual inspections of containers, foundations and supports.

Simply having an SPCC Plan is not enough: Your employees must be trained on it

Failing to properly train all workers on the components of your facility's SPCC Plan can also result in liabilities. In the study cited by Environmental Leader, a significant portion of the citations issued were for inadequate training of personnel. These included:

  • Failure to provide training on the operation and maintenance equipment used to prevent discharges
  • Failure to provide training on the pollution control laws, rules and regulations covering the facility
  • Failure to provide training on the contents of the facility's SPCC Plan
  • Failure to maintain records of training activities

Training-related citations accounted for more than 16 percent of the total at bulk storage facilities. For production facilities, the figure was 18 percent.

A compliant SPCC Plan protects both the environment and your bottom line

Given the scope of potential liabilities facing covered facilities that fail to comply with the EPA's SPCC Rule, including both fines and remediation costs, it seems clear that this is a crucial, if under-appreciated, area of risk management. If your facility may be subject to this rule and you are uncertain about your obligations or how to meet them, it may be time to bring in the experts.

Working with environmental consultants who have experience dealing with the unique regulatory landscape in your region can greatly facilitate all aspects of compliance, from preliminary assessments to ongoing reporting.