Want to Delay? You'll Pay

Many oil product users, shippers, transloaders, and chemical companies have been influenced — as a result of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) indecisiveness and bureaucratic vagueness in their regulations — into thinking that the agency will not focus on their compliance with Spill Prevention, Containment, and Countermeasures (SPCC) requirements for many years to come. Part of this lax attitude relates to the fact that the latest rewrite of the SPCC regulations (40 Code of Federal Regulations 112) has been pulled while EPA regulators enhance that version. Now that the new implementation date of the revised SPCC regulation is on the horizon for July 1, 2009, many corporate managers, are thinking, “Why prepare SPCC plans when EPA is sadly understaffed, overworked, and probably doesn’t even know we exist. We could sure use the capital funds better to improve production or develop that next product.”

This prevalent attitude of many petrochemical shipping and receiving companies’ top managements is similar to that of a surprised deer frozen in the headlights of an oncoming car. The deer recognizes that something dangerous is coming, but their “what to do process” has become the analysis paralysis that soon makes the deer become road kill. Since EPA’s enforcement headlights may take months to eventually reach the contact point, many companies prefer to analyze, “How soon do we have to comply?” or “How long can we put them off before we actually have to do something?”

Many corporations appoint committees to develop the strategy for compliance or delay in meeting the SPCC requirements. Unfortunately, these groups get caught up in the dangerous mindset of waiting just a little longer so some new equipment can be reviewed, or some idea seen in a trade magazine can be fathomed by local managers. These end-to-end delays soon add up to months and months of indecisive discussion and inaction.

Considerations in Implementing An SPCC Plan
There are many internal corporate political angles that have to be bridged, but the following are some of the SPCC value items that should be examined:

1. Don’t just look at the initial cost of the spill containment equipment. What will be the recurring costs over the life of the operation? Purchasing cheap, open railroad track spill containment pans may save a bundle initially but how much is the additional oil-water filter equipment going to cost? Additionally, there is the annual labor to pump out the oily, tainted rainwater after each storm and then its disposal. How much snow shoveling, sand and debris removal will be needed? Experience shows that often the overhead costs more than the purchase.

2.Will this procedure or equipment become obsolete in a matter of months after we purchase it? Can it be used in a different way at another plant or relocated on the facility site? A large, open concrete slab for containment of tanker truck loading or unloading is expensive. This loading rack slab will likely last 50 years. However, to avoid collection of rainwater 24/7 year-round, you’ll need to consider building a canopy over it, which costs approximately $50,000. Next, the local fire marshal advises you that you cannot do that unless you add a deluge fire suppression system to the canopied loading area. If your master plan changes, or other new products alter the plant’s mission, what do you do with this expensive containment that now may be on the wrong side of the facility?

3.Will this same equipment be more expensive in the immediate future or will it be cheaper? Companies that chose not to purchase steel track pans back in 2003 thought they were saving money. They figured that the thousands of dollars that they would have to spend on these items would have been better spent enhancing production or just holding the funds so that they could draw interest. In 2004, due to international plate steel prices soaring, the cost of these containments nearly doubled. Putting off the inevitable for a year cost them dearly. The prices for milled steel have leveled off some, but with the steel demands from China and India, the price of good-quality steel containment is not going to go down. As the price of oil keeps rising, fiberglass and poly pan prices are going higher too.

4.How long will it take to get our employees trained in spill control? Review your key employee list and then figure out how long you can spare a certain person to attend training and get certified as an instructor. By delaying the expenditure on training, what have you saved? Will a last-minute rush to get persons trained cost a whole lot more than just working it into the schedule now?

5. What would be the cost to your company if a major spill occurred at your facility and contaminated the local area and the local press reported your negligence about not having proper spill containment? Would the bad public image perhaps influence your customers not to do business with you? What would be the cost to employee morale if they went home and their neighbors and associates chided them for being part of a careless company? Would this negative press coverage just draw even more “extreme greenies” into the fray when you attempted to implement future building plans or needed community support for your operations? What would be the associated costs of delaying compliance with the revised SPCC requirements until they are enacted in 2009?

While your “best way” analysis is being conducted, what is happening in the meantime at the facility? Are small releases on your concrete slabs being washed off with hundreds of gallons of water into a holding tank? Are empty tote tanks or drums being left out on an uncovered storage slab or loading dock? What happens to the rainwater that lands on these used containers? Do minor releases of soluble, bulk powders get cleaned up immediately or do your work floor shifts each wait for the other shift to sweep it up?

Yes, there is a cost to doing nothing. What risk are you willing to take? How long will your management stand in the middle of the road hoping that maybe the SPCC regulation will be postponed yet again? The tainted rainwater runoff from your plant will still be migrating your chemicals off-site and down the local drainage ditch. Do you wait until EPA just happens to analyze a water sample down gradient from your plant and correlates the chemicals to those you reported to EPA under SARA Title III requirements?

By then you’re road kill.

Update on SPCC Rule’s Status

On May 10, 2007, EPA Administrator Steve Johnson signed a rule extending the compliance dates for owners and operators of facilities preparing or amending and implementing SPCC plans. This final rule extends the dates by which a facility must prepare or amend and implement its SPCC Plan until July 1, 2009. EPA expects to propose further revisions to the SPCC rule in 2007.

Earlier in December 2006, Johnson signed a final rule to amend the SPCC rule at 40 CFR Part 112. EPA amended the SPCC rule to address a number of issues raised by its 2002 final rule, including those pertaining to facilities with smaller oil storage capacities, qualified oil field operational equipment, motive power containers, and mobile refuelers. EPA also removed sections of the rule that are not appropriate for facilities with animal fats and vegetable oils, and extended the compliance dates for farms.

EPA has prepared references to help the regulated community understand and comply with the rule. EPA will also revise the SPCC Guidance for regional inspectors, as appropriate, to reflect the amendments to the rule and will post any changes on the Web site. For more information about the rule, go to www.epa.gov/oilspill.

This article originally appeared in the 09/01/2007 issue of Environmental Protection.

About the Author

Louis F. Centofanti, PhD, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Perma-Fix Environmental Services Inc., is a former Regional Administrator for the U.S. Department of Energy.

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