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Small oil production and storage facilities often overlook their obligations to develop and implement oil Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) plans. These requirements have been issued by the USEPA under the authority of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Oil Pollution Act (OPA). The goal of a SPCC plan assist a facility in averting impacts from unplanned oil spills and to reduce the amount of oil from a discharge which reaches surface waters. Such a plan generally requires that spill containment equipment and secondary containment structures be maintained on site and that staff be trained in spill management. States may implement more stringent requirements than the EPA, but the EPA standards are the minimum required. Failure to maintain a SPCC plan can result in significant fines and substantially increased costs of remedial measures if a spill occurs.

Regulated Facilities

Any facility that contains above ground storage capacity of 1,320 gallons or buried oil storage capacity of 42,000 gallons which given its location could suffer a discharge of oil into navigable surface waters or wetlands must prepare and utilize a SPPC plan. This includes:

  • Onshore and offshore oil drilling facilities;
  • Onshore and offshore oil production facilities;
  • Oil refining or storage facilities;
  • Oil loading equipment;
  • Tank trucks and railroad cars used to transport oil within a facility; and
  • Pipelines used to transport oil within a facility;

A facility is exempt if it can establish that a discharge could not reasonably be expected to reach navigable waters or wetlands because of its location. Manmade structures may not be considered in such determination. The standard of what constitutes “navigable” water is very broad. It takes very little contact of oil with surface water to create EPA jurisdiction.


A SPCC plan must be prepared in accordance with good engineering practices and have full approval of facility management. The plan must contain descriptions of:

  • The type of oil in any containers and anticipated storage capacities;
  • Discharge prevention measures;
  • Discharge and drainage controls;
  • Countermeasures for discharge discovery, response and cleanup;
  • Methods of disposal of recovered materials;
  • Contact list and phone numbers of the facility response coordinator, the National Response Center (NRC), clean up contractors under contract and all applicable agencies that must be contacted;
  • A facility diagram showing wells, piping, storage containers, transfer areas and capacities;
  • Provisions for reporting spills; and
  • Creation of containment and/or diversionary structures including but not limited to dikes, berms, sumps, collection systems, culvert controls, weirs, booms, spill diversion ponds, sorbent materials, curbing, drip plans and other methods to control and release.

SPCC plans must also provide procedures for inspections and testing and documentation that inspections and testing are conducted by qualified staff or engineers. Each facility must train all oil handling personnel in the operation and maintenance of equipment. The plan must further describe security procedures.

Additional specific requirements exist for various categories of applicable facilities including onshore production facilities, onshore nonproduction facilities, onshore oil drilling and workover facilities and offshore facilities.

SPCC plans must generally be certified by a licensed PE. Some limited “qualified facilities” may use self-certification.

SPCC plans must be reviewed every five years and amended to reflect more effective prevention and control technology. EPA may also require a facility to amend its plan if it discharged more than 1,000 gallons in a single event or had two spills of 42 gallons or more within a 12 month period. SPCC plans must be maintained at a facility if it is normally attended at least 4 hours per day. If not so attended, the SPCC plan must be maintained at the nearest attended field office.


A failure to develop and maintain a SPCC plan or maintenance of a plan which is inadequate can result in Notices of Violation or Non-Compliance and related fines from the regulatory agencies. A failure to maintain a SPCC plan will also likely result in much greater costs of remediation if an oil spill occurs in addition to potential natural resource damages and other administrative fines. The consequences of failing to maintain a SPCC planning far exceed the costs of developing and maintaining such plans.