AST Alert

Facilities with aboveground storage tanks containing petroleum products need to be aware of the stricter requirements of the new SPCC rules

A recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency press release (EPA Region 8, 11/24/2003) reads as follows: "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Denver office is seeking penalties of more than $400,000 against 17 facilities in North Dakota for violations of the federal Clean Water Act's Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) Plan Regulations"

EPA recently finalized new regulations Title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 112 (40CFR 112) regarding SPCC plans. This rule is applicable to all owners of aboveground oil and gasoline storage tanks. The rules have been in effect since the early 1970s but the new revisions were made to clarify the rule's language and organization. The requirements were initially put in place in 1973 and this new rule became effective August 16, 2002. EPA extended compliance with changes until August 2004; but compliance with the old rules is still required. After February 2005, operators of aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) must prepare and implement an SPCC plan before beginning operations. EPA is currently inspecting AST sites and recent inspections have included diverse groups ranging from country clubs and car rental agencies to nursing homes.

The final rule is complex and covers more than 100 pages, including comments. EPA has tried to make understanding the rule easier with several summaries and brochures on the EPA Web site.

Key Elements of the New SPCC Law
If a facility has more than a total of 1,320 gallons of total aboveground petroleum storage capacity, it probably will have to comply with the EPA's SPCC regulations. The 1,320- gallon capacity is determined by measuring the contents of all containers with a capacity of 55 gallons or more, including all petroleum products and animal oils and fats. All these storage drums and tanks must have secondary containment and be included in a written control and countermeasures plan. Note that EPA's focus is on the capacity and not the amount stored. If a facility has a 2,000-gallon tank but only stores 500 gallons in it, the law says the entity has 2,000 gallons of storage.

Overall, the rule continues to apply to owners or operators of facilities that drill, produce, gather, store, use, process, refine, transfer, distribute, or consume oil or oil products. (See the table Target Industries Identified in 40 CFR 112 for EPA's list of target entities.) This rule includes such diverse owners/operators as farmers, automobile lots, and school districts. It also includes storage for emergency generator fuel at locations such as hospitals. If you have a total aboveground storage capacity that totals more than 1,320 gallons of petroleum products, including all tanks and drums 55 gallons and larger, and the tanks are in a location where the drainage might eventually drain into navigable water, the law applies. Revisions incorporated into the new SPCC regulations include the exemption of completely buried storage tanks and the exemption of portions of certain facilities used exclusively for wastewater treatment. These facilities have their own rules.

One of the unique areas of emphasis for EPA is the requirement of secondary containment for the bulk trucks that refill the storage tanks. Not only does the SPCC plan have to have procedures for containing a spill from the tanks, the facility must have procedures and containment for the bulk filling trucks. This requirement can present some unique problems because frequently these trucks fill the storage tanks from locations outside the containment area, such as parking areas.

The preparation of the plan is the responsibility of the ASTs' owner, but it must be certified by a licensed professional engineer. The plan must describe the preparations and implementation to prevent any discharge of oil into local waters. Oil in this law is very broad and includes petroleum, oil mixed with other wastes, animal oils and fats, and oil from vegetables, seeds, nuts, etc. It also includes petroleum products such as grease, synthetic oils, and mineral oils. Also, the SPCC plan must at least address the following:

  • Operating procedures the facility implements to prevent oil spills
  • Control measures installed to prevent oil from entering navigable waters
  • Countermeasures to contain, cleanup, and mitigate the effects of oil spills

This means that an owner/operator might, for example, have to build a dike around bulk lube oil tanks or aboveground diesel tanks. The plan also must include record keeping, loading/unloading procedures, transfer procedures, and site security.

A key inspection area for EPA is recordkeeping. These records include, but are not limited to, annual training on the SPCC, regular safety training to include SPCC information, and both weekly and annual inspections of tanks and equipment. Furthemore, the SPCC plan must be recertified by a registered engineer every five years (unless there has been a major change in the site, in which case the SPCC plan must be updated as soon as possible).

Another important element of the SPCC program is the requirement for SPCC-regulated sites to report to EPA whenever two spills or discharges of 42 gallons or more occur within any 12-month period. If the spill is more than 1,000 gallons, only a single spill will trigger reporting.

When EPA Drops By for a Visit
As the press release from EPA indicates, the agency has implemented a program to visit and inspect the SPCC plans at sites. EPA is using both agency employees and outside contractors to perform these inspections

In some cases, EPA may send a letter announcing that a site will be inspected in the near future and request a copy of the SPCC plan before the arrival of the inspectors. However, EPA is also making unannounced inspections where the facility's SPCC plan is reviewed on site by inspectors. The facility also will need to provide relevant documentation of operating procedures, spill prevention measures, personnel training, inspection procedures, drainage discharges, and spill incidents. Additionally, the inspectors may conduct an unannounced drill during which they will inspect the condition of spill containment equipment and evaluate the facility's ability to respond to a spill.

In March 2004, EPA held a public meeting with interested stakeholders explaining the results of the settlement agreements from two lawsuits (API vs. EPA and The Petroleum Marketers Association of America vs. EPA, re: the July 2002 rule). These lawsuits were settled earlier this year and did clarify some specific areas. In particular, the rulings clarified issues associated with tank-integrity testing, fencing, loading racks and the definition of impracticality. A key issue has been the requirement for secondary containment in loading racks. The wording now refers to "loading and unloading areas." It appears that the interpretation will be that the area where a bulk truck fills these smaller tanks will fall under the rules for "undiked drainage" and will require some type of containment. Much more information concerning the settlement agreement is available at

Overall, these regulations are still being resolved, but it appears that EPA will not back off compliance for even small ASTs. In addition, EPA is inspecting small tank sites. Remember, even if the facility has an aboveground, double-walled petroleum storage tank the facility still has to provide secondary containment for bulk loading areas, training, documentation of training and tank inspections and, of course, the SPCC plan signed by a registered engineer.

Target Industries Identified in 40 CFR 112

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

John Adams, PE, is president of Phase I Environmental Inc., an environmental consulting firm based in Highlands, Texas. Adams received his BS in chemical engineering from Texas A&M University and an MBA from Harvard Business School. Before starting his own firm, he worked in various engineering and senior management positions for several major companies, including Conoco, Shell, and Tenneco. Adams was also an officer in the U.S. Air Force where he worked with nuclear weapons. He is a registered engineer in Texas and is a member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, the American Chemical Society, and the Texas Society of Professional Engineers. He can be contacted at (281)426.2756.

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