The sheen rule

State notification hotline numbers The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) discharge of oil regulation (40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 110), more commonly known as the "sheen rule," provides the framework for determining when an oil spill on inland or coastal waters or adjoining shorelines must be reported to the federal government. Under Section 110.6, such discharges of oil to navigable waters of the United States are prohibited. In particular, the regulation requires the person in charge of a facility or vessel responsible for a discharge of oil that may be "harmful to the public health or welfare" to report the spill to the National Response Center (NRC) as required in Section 110.10. The NRC then notifies the local EPA or U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) office located in the response jurisdiction where a particular spill occurs. The center records and maintains all oil spill reports in a computer database called the Emergency Response Notification System (ERNS). Oil spill notifications reported directly to local EPA and USCG offices are also recorded in the ERNS database. Initial notification data may be updated with information from various federal, state and local response authorities. The discharge of oil regulation establishes the criteria in Section 110.3 for determining whether an oil spill may be harmful to public health or welfare, thereby triggering the reporting requirements, as follows:

  • Discharges that cause film or sheen upon or discoloration of the surface of the water or adjoining shorelines; or
  • Discharges that violate applicable water quality standards; or
  • Discharges that cause a sludge or emulsion to be deposited beneath the surface of water or upon adjoining shorelines.
The sheen rule applies to both petroleum and non-petroleum oils. Oil is defined in Section 110.1 as oil of any kind or in any form, including, but not limited to, petroleum, fuel oil, sludge, oil refuse and oil mixed with wastes other than dredged spoil. According to Section 110.1 a discharge includes, but is not limited to, any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, or dumping, but excludes:
  • Discharges in compliance with a national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permit;
  • Discharges resulting from circumstances identified, reviewed and made a part of the public record with respect to a NPDES permit; and
  • Continuous or anticipated intermittent discharges from a point source, identified in a NPDES permit or permit application, caused by events occurring within the scope of relevant operating or treatment systems.
The NRC streamlines the federal response mechanism by providing a single, continuously staffed location that receives and refers for action or investigation all reports of environmental incidents throughout the United States and its territories. By calling toll free (1-800-424-8802) any person may satisfy the federal reporting requirements for an oil spill. The NRC is located in Washington, D.C., and is administered by the USCG. Section 311(b)(5) of the Clean Water Act, Section 306(a) of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act Amendments of 1978 and Section 18(b) of the Deepwater Ports Act of 1974 require the responsible party to notify the NRC of an oil spill from a vessel or facility operating (1) in or along U.S. navigable waters, (2) on the Outer Continental Shelf, (3) in a deep water port or (4) from a vessel transporting oil from the Outer Continental Shelf. The following information should be reported to the NRC to the extent that it is readily available at the time of making the notification:
  • Name, address and telephone number of caller;
  • Name of the party or individual responsible for the incident;
  • Mailing address and telephone number of the responsible party;
  • Date and time the incident occurred or was discovered;
  • Specific location of the incident;
  • Name and source of the material spilled or released;
  • Cause of the spill or release;
  • Total estimated quantity spilled or released;
  • Media affected (air, water, subsurface or ground);
  • Amount of spill which entered water;
  • Weather conditions;
  • Vessel name, railcar/truck number or other identifying information;
  • Name of carrier;
  • Number and type of injuries or fatalities;
  • Whether evacuations have occurred;
  • Estimated dollar amount of property damage;
  • Description of cleanup action taken and future plans; and
  • Other agencies notified by the caller or that will be immediately notified by the caller.
After receiving a notification, the NRC will immediately relay the information to the predesignated federal on-scene coordinator (OSC). Generally, EPA responds to inland zone incidents and the USCG responds to coastal zone incidents. The OSC will coordinate federal, state and local response efforts as necessary to minimize public and environmental impact. The NRC also notifies other federal agencies with co-jurisdictional responsibilities for some types of incidents. Facilities may also be required to report discharges of oil to a state environmental regulatory agency regardless of whether the discharge enters a navigable waterway.
State notification hotline numbers Alabama Dept. of Environmental Management In state (800) 843-0699 Business hours (334) 260-2700 Alaska Alaska Dept. of Environmental Conservation Nonbusiness hours (800) 478-9300 Anchorage (907) 269-7500 Fairbanks (907) 269-7500 Juneau (907) 465-5340 Arizona Arizona Dept. of Environmental Quality Business hours (602) 207-4255 24 hours (602) 207-4261 Arkansas Office of Pollution Control and Ecology Business hours (501) 562-7444 Office of Emergency Services 24 hours (501) 374-1201 California Office of Emergency Services 24 hours (916) 262-1621 Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment 24 hours (303) 756-4455 Connecticut Dept. of Environmental Protection 24 hours (860)424-3338 Delaware Dept. of Natural Resources & Environmental Control 24 hours (302) 739-5072 Florida Dept. of Environmental Protection In state (904) 413-9911 or (800) 320-0510 Georgia Dept. of Natural Resources (404) 656-4300 Guam Guam Environmental Protection Agency (671) 475-1633 Hawaii Hawaii Department of Health 24 hours (808) 247-2191 Business hours (808) 586-4249 Idaho Idaho State Communications (208) 334-4570 Illinois Illinois Environmental Protection Agency In state (800) 782-7860 Out of state (217) 782-7860 Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management (317) 233-7745 Iowa Emergency Response Commission (515) 281-8694 Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment (913) 296-1500 Kentucky Dept. of Environmental Protection (800) 928-2380 Louisiana Dept. of Environmental Quality 24 hours (505) 342-1234 Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection In state (800) 482-0777 Out of state (207) 822-6300 Maryland Dept. of the Environment 24 hours (410) 874-3551 Massachusetts Dept. of Environmental Protection Northeast region (Woburn) (781) 932-7600 Southeast region (Lakeville) (508) 946-2850 Central region (Worcester) (508) 792-7653 Western region (Springfield) (413) 784-1100 Michigan Dept. of Environmental Quality In state (800) 282-9378 Out of state (517) 373-7660 Minnesota Minnesota Pollution Control Agency In state (800) 422-0798 Out of state (612) 649-5451 Mississippi Dept. of Environmental Quality (601) 352-9100 Missouri Dept. of Natural Resources Emergency response unit (573) 634-2436 Montana Disaster and Emergency Services 24 hours (406) 444-6911 Nebraska Dept. of Environmental Quality (402) 471-4545 Nevada Nevada Dept. of Environmental Protection (702) 687-4670 ext. 3043 New Hampshire New Hampshire Dept. of Environmental Services In state (603) 271-3503 or (800) 346-4009 Out of state (603) 271-3636 New Jersey New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection (609) 292-7172 New Mexico Environment Dept. 24 hours (505) 827-9329 Business hours (505) 827-0187 New York New York State Dept. of Conservation (518) 457-7362 North Carolina Dept. of Environment, Health & Natural Resources Business hours (919) 733-5291 Nonbusiness hours (800) 858-0368 North Dakota State Radio 24 hours ( 701) 328-2121 Ohio Ohio Environmental Protection Agency In state (800) 282-9378 Out of state (614) 224-0946 Oklahoma Dept. of Environmental Quality 24 hours (800) 522-0206 Oil and gas pipelines and production (405) 332-3441 Oregon Oregon Emergency Management (503) 378-6377 Puerto Rico Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (787) 756-2823 Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Protection (800) 541-2050 or (717) 787-4343 Rhode Island Dept. of Environmental Management In state (401) 277-3872 or (800) 498-1336 Out of state (401) 277-3070 South Carolina Dept. of Health and Environmental Control (803) 253-6488 South Dakota Division of Emergency Management 24 hours (605) 773-3296 Tennessee Dept. of Environment and Conservation In state (800) 262-3300 Out of state (800) 258-3300 Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission 24 hours (512) 463-7777 RR Comm. for Oil and Gas Production & Pipelines 24 hours (512) 463-6788 U.S. Virgin Islands U.S. Virgin Islands Dept. of Planning & Natural Resources (340) 777-4577 Utah Dept. of Emergency Management 24 hours (801) 536-4123 Vermont Agency of Natural Resources In state (800) 641-5005 Out of state (802) 244-8721 Virginia Dept. of Environmental Services 24 hours (804) 527-5020 Washington D.C. Mayor's Command Center 24 hours (202) 727-6161 Washington Dept. of Ecology 24 hours (800) 258-5990 West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection 24 Hours (800) 642-3074 Wisconsin Dept. of Natural Resources 24 hours (800) 943-0003 Wyoming Dept. of Environmental Quality 24 hours (307) 777-7781 Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. EPA.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1999 issue of Environmental Protection.