The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of oil in harmful quantities into navigable waters of the United States and directs the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to write rules to prevent oil discharges. These rules-known as the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasures, or SPCC, regulations-are published in 40 CFR Part 112 and apply to EPA-regulated facilities with an aggregate oil container capacity of 1,320 gallons aboveground or 42,000 gallons underground, based on containers 55 gallons in volume and larger. Regulated containers include all types of oil containers including oil-filled equipment. The regulations are fairly concise, but they contain wording subject to interpretation such as adequate, sufficiently, promptly, regularly, and frequently. Consequently, misconceptions about the requirements are common. Some of the more common SPCC misconceptions are discussed and corrected below.
Misconception #1 - The facility diagram is required to show oil containers only.
In addition to showing regulated fixed oil containers of all types (including oil-filled equipment) and portable oil container areas, the diagram must show connecting pipes and transfer areas (e.g., loading/unloading areas and racks). Connecting pipes and transfer areas are required diagram features that are often overlooked. Although most diagrams consistently include bulk oil storage containers such as tanks, drums, and totes, staff often neglect to include oil-filled equipment such as transformers, gear boxes, and elevator and other hydraulic reservoirs.
Misconception #2 - The required five-year SPCC plan review must be certified by a registered Professional Engineer (PE).
PE certification of the five-year review is not required if there are no technical amendments (see side note); however, the review must be documented. PE certification is required only when making technical amendments as a result of the review. Therefore, if a Plan is updated partway through the five-year window to incorporate a technical amendment, this does not restart the five-year window unless more effective prevention and control technology is considered at the time of the amendment. To facilitate tracking of the five-year window, a best practice is to maintain separate logs for technical amendments and the five-year review.
Misconception #3 - Oil-handling personnel must receive annual training.
Oil-handling personnel must be trained on very specific topics (e.g., the SPCC plan, procedures, law, rules, discharge prevention protocols, operation/maintenance), but there is no annual training required for these topics. Instead, discharge prevention briefings must be conducted at least once each year. According to EPA's SPCC 101 for Agriculture PowerPoint presentation, the guidance indicates that “This does not have to be complex classroom type event, but it must occur. If you can get it done on the back of a pickup . . . and cover the necessary items, and document it, it will suffice.”
Misconception #4 - There is no requirement that the PE certifying a SPCC plan be certified in the state in which the facility is located.
Although SPCC regulations do not require a PE to be licensed in the facility's state, most state PE licensing boards consider the act of evaluating and stamping an SPCC plan to be practicing engineering, and therefore require the PE to be licensed in the state. Check with the state PE licensing board for further guidance.
Misconception #5 - Oil containers inside a building do not require secondary containment.
A building can meet secondary containment requirements, but only if the building can actually contain the contents of an oil container. If oil containers are in close proximity to outside doorways, or to floor drains that discharge to a municipal wastewater system, or if the building walls lack sufficient integrity, then the building would not provide adequate secondary containment. [see Photo 1]
Misconception #6 - The SPCC plan needs to be updated only during the required five-year review.
SPCC plan revisions are required as soon as possible and no more than six months after a technical amendment is made. After the plan has been revised to reflect a change, requirements must be implemented as soon as possible, but no later than six months following an amendment. One of the more common scenarios where this comes into play is when contractors bring oil containers on-site for a temporary project such as an outage. If the temporary oil containers will be present on the site for less than six months, the SPCC plan does not need to be revised to address the temporary oil containers. However, the owner and the operator are still responsible for keeping oil from reaching water, regardless of whether the temporary containers have been incorporated into a plan. So, plan accordingly!
Misconception #7 - The primary tank in a double-wall tank system does not require visual inspection.
In a double-wall tank system, the interior tank is the primary tank and the outside wall forms the secondary containment. Regulations require frequent visual examinations of the primary tank, and industry standards require that double-wall tank systems be inspected on a periodic basis. If the system is not equipped with interstitial leak detection, then the interstitial space must be inspected. This can be achieved by visually inspecting view ports or access points, or by opening drain plugs to check for the presence of oil in the interstitial space. If there is no means to access or inspect the interstitial space, then the tank should be treated as a single-wall tank and additional secondary containment is needed. [See Photo 2]
Misconception #8 - The purpose of the five-year review is to update the SPCC plan for changes that were made in the previous five years
The five-year review requires an evaluation of whether more effective field-proven prevention and control technology would significantly reduce the potential for a discharge. It is not a catch-up review for all the technical changes that occurred during the previous five-year period. Updates to the plan should be made as changes occur.
Misconception #9 - The only required inspections for bulk oil storage containers are the inspections and tests in accordance with industry standards.
Actually, there are two distinct inspection requirements for bulk oil storage containers. In addition to inspections in accordance with industry standards, there is a requirement to frequently inspect container exteriors for signs of deterioration, discharges, and accumulation of oil inside secondary containment. The frequent exterior inspection is intended to be a routine walk-around of the container. The EPA sample bulk storage facility plan in the SPCC Guidance Manual for Regional Inspectors includes a daily inspection to address this requirement. It is interesting to note that the sample plan does not mention any required documentation for these daily inspections. This has led to some debate as to whether these frequent inspections require documentation. The general requirements of 40 CFR 112.7(e) require facilities to “keep . . . a record of the inspections and tests, signed by the appropriate supervisor or inspector” for three years. However, 40 CFR 112.8/12(c)(6) allows that “records of inspections and tests kept under usual and customary business practices satisfy the recordkeeping requirements.”
Misconception #10 - Mobile refuelers are exempt from integrity testing.
Although mobile refuelers are exempt from sized secondary containment requirements, they are still subject to integrity testing and general secondary containment requirements. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements are a useful resource for assessing mobile refuelers' fitness for service.
Misconception #11 - The “on-board” fuel tank associated with a generator (i.e., a “genset”) is oil-filled operational equipment that does not require sized secondary containment.
Genset fuel tanks are classified as bulk storage containers and are required to have adequately-sized secondary containment. Newer units are typically configured as double-walled tanks, but older units may be of single-wall construction. The oil crankcase, if 55 gallons or larger, would be regulated as oil-filled operating equipment.
Misconception #12 - Providing secondary containment for 110% of the largest oil container inside secondary containment will always provide “sufficient freeboard for precipitation.”
In some situations, 110% of storage tank capacity may not be enough to contain precipitation from storm events. EPA's recommended criteria is a 25-year, 24-hour storm event. This data is now readily available from the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration Precipitation Frequency Data Server. The 110% rule-of-thumb is especially problematic for secondary containment areas with large footprints, low walls, and/or significant precipitation events.
Potential consequences related to these misconceptions include increased compliance costs, spill clean-up liabilities, and civil penalties. For assistance in assessing your SPCC plans and spill prevention programs for conformance with EPA regulations as well as state-specific requirements, contact Trinity at (800) 229-6655 or complete the Contact Us form on our website.