Environmental Regulations Aim to Prevent Pollution from Oil Tank Spills

​​Q: What environmental regulations are designed to prevent pollution from oil tank spills at businesses, farms and other properties? 
A: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and all 50 states have a wide variety of water pollution laws that prohibit a person from allowing oil to spill from tanks into streams, lakes and other water bodies. Under one of these laws, the EPA has instituted a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) program to prevent oil spills from tanks. This program was initiated after several instances in which ruptured tanks released large quantities of oil into the nation’s rivers, including a major oil spill that polluted the Ohio River. 

Q: In general, what are the purposes of the SPCC program?
A: The SPCC program requires tank owners or operators to prepare plans designed to prevent oil tanks from leaking and, if a spill occurs, to prevent spilled oil from reaching streams, lakes and other water bodies.

Q: What types of tanks are subject to SPCC regulation? 
A: The SPCC program applies to tanks above or below ground that store oil. Both stationary and portable tanks are regulated. Some tanks that are regulated by other environmental programs, such as hazardous waste tanks, are exempt from SPCC requirements.

Q: What kinds of oils are regulated by the SPCC program? 
A: The SPCC program applies to all industrial oils, including petroleum, gasoline, fuel oil and diesel fuel. The program also applies to other types of oils, such as vegetable oil and animal fats. The EPA considers milk to be an oil, but has exempted milk at dairies and other locations from SPCC regulation.

Q: How much oil may a person store in tanks at a single location without being subject to SPCC program regulations?
A: The SPCC requirements apply whenever the combined capacity of all aboveground tanks exceeds 1320 gallons or the combined capacity of all underground tanks exceeds 42,000 gallons. These regulatory thresholds are based on total tank capacity, whether or not they are full of oil. Accordingly, a property may be subject to the SPCC program even if its tanks are empty. 
Q: What kinds of businesses or activities are subject to the SPCC program?
A: The SPCC program applies to any location hosting oil tanks whose combined capacity exceeds the regulatory threshold, regardless of the type of business or activities occurring at that location. Therefore, SPCC requirements may apply to industrial, commercial, agricultural or residential properties. However, the SPCC regulations exempt some types of uses, such as tanks supplying heating oil to single family residences, pesticide application and mixing hot asphalt.

Q: What information must be included in an SPCC plan? 
A: An SPCC plan must include spill prevention procedures during activities such as loading and handling, containment structures for catching and retaining spilled oil such as curbs and walls, procedures for finding and cleaning up spills, a list of companies and persons who can assist in cleaning up spills, procedures for training employees to prevent and clean up spills and other information.

Q: Who is allowed to prepare SPCC plans? 
A: If a facility has a combined capacity below 10,000 gallons of oil, has no single tank with a capacity exceeding 5000 gallons and has a history of only minimal spills during the previous three years, the facility owner or operator may use a template provided by the EPA to prepare a simplified SPCC plan.  All other facilities must hire an engineer to prepare more complicated plans.


This "Law You Can Use" consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). It was prepared by attorney Jack Van Kley, a member of the Columbus firm of Van Kley & Walker, LLC. ​

Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.



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