Do you know how much oil you store in aboveground containers at your facilities? If you have more than 1,320 gallons at a facility, you may need an SPCC Plan. SPCC stands for Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure, and it is a federal rule (40 CFR 112 in the Federal Register) designed to prevent oil-based products from entering navigable waterways of the United States. But it’s about more than just compliance. It’s an important tool to help you limit your liability.
As a utility leader, your focus is to deliver electricity to your customers; however, facilities covered under the SPCC Rule are subject to inspections and potential enforcement actions if your practices are out of compliance.
The 1,320-gallon threshold isn’t the only requirement for an SPCC Plan. The SPCC Rule only counts oil storage containers with a capacity of 55 gallons or more. Many electric utility facilities will meet the oil storage threshold, including substations, storage yards, power plants, and operations and maintenance facilities.
Another criterion is that a facility must reasonably be expected to discharge oil into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines of the U.S. The Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) does not define what “reasonably be expected” means. Instead, the responsibility is on the facility owner or operator to determine the potential for discharge. In reality, it’s usually easy to think of a scenario where spilled oil could reach a waterway. Even if you think a spill would never reach the stream, what if there was a significant rain event that washed away spilled oil on the ground through a storm sewer? Often “reasonably be expected” is not challenged, and it’s best to err on the side of caution.
It’s time to prepare an SPCC Plan. The Plan summarizes your facility’s oil sources, identifies spill response coordinators, and outlines your spill prevention measures and spill response procedures. There are three options: 1) Prepare the Plan yourself; 2) Use a third-party provider to prepare your Plan; or 3) Have a licensed professional engineer (PE) prepare your Plan. The option you choose depends on how much oil you store at your facility and your working knowledge of the SPCC Rule.
If your facility has less than 10,000 gallons of oil and no single aboveground oil storage container with a capacity greater than 5,000 U.S. gallons, you may prepare your own SPCC Plan, following the USEPA’s Tier I qualified facility template.
You can download the USEPA’s Tier I qualified facility template here: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-05/documents/tier1template.pdf. It is the cheapest way to comply with the SPCC Rule. You need to be familiar with the SPCC Rule’s requirements to complete a self-certified plan. You must also follow all of the requirements without deviation.
If your facility has less than 10,000 gallons of oil and a single aboveground oil storage container with a capacity greater than 5,000 U.S. gallons, you qualify under the USEPA’s Tier II qualified facility category. The USEPA does not provide a plan template for a Tier II qualified facility. You can still prepare the Plan yourself, or you may hire a third party or PE to prepare the Plan for you. If you prepare the Plan yourself, you must still follow all of the requirements precisely without deviating from them.
If your facility has greater than 10,000 gallons of oil storage, you must have a licensed PE prepare and certify your facility’s SPCC Plan. The Rule allows PEs the flexibility to deviate from certain requirements, so you may decide you want a PE to prepare and certify your plan for your Tier I or Tier II qualified facility.
An SPCC Plan is about more than just compliance. An SPCC Plan contains important information that will be critical if you have an oil spill. The Plan contains inspection forms and protocols that help you maintain your oil sources and prevent a spill from happening in the first place. It identifies the single point of contact, an “SPCC Coordinator” for the facility. If there is a spill, the Plan contains steps to contain and control the spill initially, and the proper contacts to notify internally and externally.
The SPCC Rule requires oil-handling personnel to receive annual training to respond to spills in their work areas properly, and the SPCC Plan contains the material that must be covered in training. The SPCC Plan also contains forms for you to document training, plan reviews and updates, and spill notifications.
Work with your staff to determine if the SPCC Rule applies to you. An SPCC Plan is a required document for certain facilities to help you comply with the SPCC Rule and gain the benefits of having a plan in place. But more than that, it’s a practical document designed to assist with training and inspections while serving the function to help prevent spills from occurring. And if spills do occur, an SPCC Plan provides the guidance to help control the spill and limit your liability.
Read Part II – Are You Ready to Respond to an Industrial Spill?
About the Author: Jared Omernik has 12 years of experience helping electric utilities comply with environmental regulations, including helping utility owners and operators build and review SPCC Plans and Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plans (SWPPPs).