Safety Laws

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SPCC Revisions and Requirements

Revised August 2003

40 CFR Part 112 Oil Pollution Prevention Regulations – Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasures (SPCC) revised July 17, 2002

Oil products are not limited to petroleum products and include vegetable, mineral and animal oils as well as grease and oil from nuts, etc.


These regulations apply to any owner or operator of a non-transportation-related onshore or offshore facility engaged in drilling, producing, storing, processing, refining, transferring, distributing, using or consuming oil products if the facility could cause a discharge of oil in a harmful quantity to Navigable Waterways.

Navigable Waterways is defined to include: all waters that have been, are or could be in the future used for interstate or foreign commerce; all waters subject to the ebb and flow of the tide; all interstate waters and wetlands; all other waters such as intrastate lakes, rivers, streams, intermittent streams, mudflats, prairie potholes, wet meadows, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, playa lakes, natural ponds that could affect interstate or foreign commerce etc.

Interstate or foreign commerce would include current or potential for future use in recreation, fishing, harvesting shellfish, industrial purposes or other purposes.




USTs that are excluded from inclusion due to their regulation under 40 CFR part 280 or under State programs approved in accordance with 40 CFR part 281 must still appear on site maps for facilities otherwise subject to the requirements of this regulation.


For those facilities that are regulated under this regulation, a compliant SPCC plan must be implemented in accordance with the following schedule:

  1. Facilities in existence on or before August 16, 2002 must maintain their current SPCC plan, make amendments to comply with the revised regulations no later than February 17, 2003 ***a final rule extension to August 17, 2004 has been allowed*** and implement the amended plan no later than August 18, 2003 *** also extended 18 months to February 18, 2005***.
  2. Facilities that become operational between August 16, 2002 and August 18, 2003 must have an SPCC plan implemented no later than August 18, 2003.
  3. Facilities that become operational after August 18, 2003 must have an SPCC plan implemented prior to the onset of operations.

SPCC Plans must be reviewed and certified by a licensed Professional Engineer.

Plans must be maintained on site and available for review during normal working hours.

SPCC plans must be reviewed at least once every 5 years and amended within 6 months of review. Changes in facility design, operation or maintenance, or construction at a facility require an SPCC plan review.

A release is reportable under this regulation whenever any one spill is greater than 1000 gallons or any two spills greater than 42 gallons occur within any 12 month period.

Some Highlighted Revisions within the Rule:

  1. USTs regulated under 40 CFR part 280 or under State programs approved in accordance with 40 CFR part 281 are exempted from the aggregate storage calculations for a site. If these USTs comprise the only storage on site, the SPCC plan is not required.
  2. An SPCC plan is no longer required for every facility with an above ground storage container with a capacity greater than 660 gallons. Under the revised rule, only sites with greater than 1320 of above ground storage are included.
  3. Facilities or parts of facilities used solely for wastewater treatment are no longer subject to the planning requirements of the rule unless they are used to meet the requirements of the rule.
  4. The Regional Administrator has authority to require SPCC plan by owners/operators of exempted facilities.
  5. The definition of Facility is revised to range from facilities as small as a piece of equipment or as large as a military base.
  6. An agent of the PE can now perform the site visit and the PE must attest that the part 112 requirements.
  7. Copies of the SPCC plan must now be maintained at the facility.
  8. Release reporting is clarified to be to the agency in charge of oil pollution control activities.
  9. The SPCC plan review timetable has been extended from every 3 years to every 5 years.
  10. Non-technical amendments to SPCC plans no longer require PE certification.
  11. Periodic container, valve and piping integrity tests have been added.
  12. Only oil handling employees must receive training.
  13. Field-constructed above ground containers must be evaluated for brittle fracture when undergoing a repair, alteration, reconstruction or change of service.
  14. NPDES records can be used to record storm water bypass events for SPCC purposes.
  15. Buried piping installed on or after August 16, 2002 is required to be protected from corrosion.


Based on the April 17, 2003 interim final rule, the USEPA has developed the following deadlines for updating and/or preparing SPCC Plans:

Existing facilities

Facilities in operation prior to August 16, 2002 must prepare amended SPCC Plans by August 17, 2004, and be fully implemented as soon as possible, but no later than February 18, 2005.

New facilities

Facilities that become operational between August 16, 2002 and February 18, 2005 must prepare and implement an SPCC Plan by February 18, 2005.

Future facilities

Facilities that become operational after February 18, 2005 must prepare and implement an SPCC Plan before commencement of operations.

Guidelines for the Bioremediation of Marine Shorelines and Freshwater Wetlands (PDF, 1.3M, 163 pages). Abstract

Helpful Links

Regulations Taking Effect 8/16/02 40 CFR 112
Containment 40 CFR 264.175
Control of Air Pollutant Emissions from Containers 40 CFR 264.1086
Management of Containers (1995) 40 CFR 264.173
Oil Discharge Penalties Law and Regulations
Oil Discharge Prevention Laws and Regulations
Residues of Hazardous Waste in Empty Containers 40 CFR 261.7
Spill Prevention Control Guidelines
Storm Water Discharge 40 CFR 122.26
Transporting Hazardous Materials in Salvage Drums 49 CFR 173.3


Response Techniques


Containment booms are used to control the spread of oil to reduce the possibility of polluting shorelines and other resources, as well as to concentrate oil in thicker surface layers, making recovery easier. In addition, booms may be used to divert and channel oil slicks along desired paths, making them easier to remove from the surface of the water. Although there is a great deal of variation in the design and construction of booms, all generally share the following four basic elements:

Booms can be divided into several basic types. Fence booms have a high freeboard and a flat flotation device, making them least effective in rough water, where wave and wind action can cause the boom to twist. Round or curtain booms have a more circular flotation device and a continuous skirt. They perform well in rough water, but are more difficult to clean and store than fence booms. Non-rigid or inflatable booms come in many shapes. They are easy to clean and store, and they perform well in rough seas. However, they tend to be expensive, more complicated to use, and puncture and deflate easily. All boom types are greatly affected by the conditions on the water; the higher the waves swell, the less effective booms become.

Booms can be fixed to a structure, such as a pier or a buoy, or towed behind or alongside one or more vessels. When stationary or moored, the boom is anchored below the water surface. It is necessary for stationary booms to be monitored or tended due to changes produced by shifting tides, tidal currents, winds, or other factors that influence water depth, direction, and force of motion. Boom tending requires round-the-clock personnel to monitor and adjust the equipment. The forces exerted by currents, waves, and wind may significantly impair the ability of a boom to hold oil. Currents may wash oil beneath a boom's skirt. Wind and waves can force oil over the top of the boom's freeboard or even flatten the boom into the water, causing it to release the contained oil. Mechanical problems and improper mooring can also cause a boom to fail.

While most booms perform well in gentle seas with smooth, long waves, rough and choppy water is likely to contribute to boom failure. In some circumstances, lengthening a boom's skirt or freeboard can aid in containing the oil. However, because they have more resistance to natural forces such as wind, waves, and currents, these oversized booms are more prone to failure or leakage than are smaller ones. Generally, booms will not operate properly when waves are higher than one meter or currents are moving faster than one knot per hour.

When a spill occurs and no containment equipment is available, barriers can be improvised from whatever materials are at hand. Although they are most often used as temporary measures to hold or divert oil until more sophisticated equipment arrives, improvised booms can be an effective way to deal with oil spills, particularly in calm water such as streams, slow-moving rivers, or sheltered bays and inlets. Improvised booms are made from such common materials as wood, plastic pipe, inflated fire hoses, automobile tires, and empty oil drums. They can be as simple as a board placed across the surface of a slow-moving stream, or a berm built by bulldozers pushing a wall of sand out from the beach to divert oil from a sensitive section of shoreline.

Dispersing Agents

Dispersing agents, also called dispersants, are chemicals that contain surfactants and/or solvent compounds that act to break petroleum oil into small droplets. In an oil spill, these droplets disperse into the water column where they are subjected to natural processes, such as waves and currents, that help to break them down further. This helps to clear oil from the water's surface, making it less likely that the oil slick will reach the shoreline.

Heavy crude oils do not disperse as well as light to medium weight oils. Dispersants should not be used on gasoline or diesel spills for example. Dispersants are most effective when applied immediately following a spill, before the lightest materials in the oil have evaporated, however, dispersant manufacturers have claimed that the "window-of-opportunity" to apply dispersants effectively is widening.

Environmental factors, including water salinity and temperature, and conditions at sea also influence the effectiveness of dispersants. Studies have shown that most dispersants work best at salinities close to that of normal seawater. EPA policy does not allow the use of dispersants in freshwater unless authorized by an On-Scene Coordinator to protect human health. The effectiveness of dispersants also depends on water temperature. While dispersants can work in colder water, they work best in warm water.

Some countries rely almost exclusively on dispersants to combat oil spills because frequently rough or choppy conditions at sea make mechanical containment and cleanup difficult. However, dispersants have not been used extensively in the United States because of possible long term environmental effects, difficulties with timely and effective application, disagreement among scientists and research data about their environmental effects, effectiveness, and toxicity concerns.

New technologies that improve the application of dispersants are being designed. The effectiveness of dispersants is being tested in laboratories and in actual spill situations, and the information collected may be used to help design more effective dispersants. Dispersants used today are less toxic than those used in the past, but long term cumulative effects of dispersant use are still unknown.


A skimmer is a device for recovering spilled oil from the water's surface. Skimmers may be self-propelled, used from shore, or operated from vessels. The efficiency of skimmers is highly dependent upon conditions at sea. In moderately rough or choppy water, skimmers tend to recover more water than oil. Three types of skimmers--weir, oleophilic and suction--are described here. Each type offers advantages and drawbacks depending on the type of oil being recovered, the sea conditions during cleanup efforts, and the presence of ice or debris in the water.

Weir skimmers use a dam or enclosure positioned at the oil/water interface. Oil floating on top of the water will spill over the dam and be trapped in a well inside, bringing with it as little water as possible. The trapped oil and water mixture can then be pumped out through a pipe or hose to a storage tank for recycling or disposal. These skimmers are prone to becoming jammed and clogged by floating debris.

Oleophilic ("oil-attracting") skimmers use belts, disks, or continuous mop chains of oleophilic materials to blot the oil from the water surface. The oil is then squeezed out or scraped off into a recovery tank. Oleophilic skimmers have the advantage of flexibility, allowing them to be used effectively on spills of any thickness. Some types, such as the chain or "rope-mop" skimmer, work well on water that is choked with debris or rough ice.

Suction skimmers operate similarly to a household vacuum cleaner. Oil is sucked up through wide floating heads and pumped into storage tanks. Although suction skimmers are generally very efficient, they are vulnerable to becoming clogged by debris and require constant skilled observation. Suction skimmers operate best on smooth water, where oil has collected against a boom or barrier.


Sorbents are insoluble materials or mixtures of materials used to recover liquids through the mechanism of absorption, or adsorption, or both. Absorbents are materials that pick up and retain liquid distributed throughout its’ molecular structure causing the solid to swell (50 percent or more). The absorbent must be at least 70 percent insoluble in excess fluid. Adsorbents are insoluble materials that are coated by a liquid on its’ surface, including pores and capillaries, without the solid swelling more than 50 percent in excess liquid. To be useful in combating oil spills, sorbents need to be both oleophilic (oil-attracting) and hydrophobic (water-repellent). Although they may be used as the sole cleanup method in small spills, sorbents are most often used to remove final traces of oil, or in areas that cannot be reached by skimmers. Sorbent materials used to recover oil must be disposed of in accordance with approved local, state, and federal regulations. Any oil that is removed from sorbent materials must also be properly disposed of or recycled.

Sorbents can be divided into three basic categories: natural organic, natural inorganic, and synthetic. Natural organic sorbents include peat moss, straw, hay, sawdust, ground corncobs, feathers, and other readily available carbon-based products. Organic sorbents can adsorb between 3 and 15 times their weight in oil, but there are disadvantages to their use. Some organic sorbents tend to adsorb water as well as oil, causing the sorbents to sink. Many organic sorbents are loose particles such as sawdust, and are difficult to collect after they are spread on the water. These problems can be counterbalanced by adding flotation devices, such as empty drums attached to sorbent bales of hay, to overcome the sinking issue, and wrapping loose particles in mesh to aid in collection.

Natural inorganic sorbents consist of clay, perlite, vermiculite, glass wool, sand, or volcanic ash. They can adsorb from 4 to 20 times their weight in oil. Inorganic sorbents, like organic sorbents, are inexpensive and readily available in large quantities. These types of sorbents are not used on the water’s surface.

Synthetic sorbents include man-made materials that are similar to plastics, such as polyurethane, polyethylene, and polypropylene and are designed to adsorb liquids onto their surfaces (like a sponge). Other synthetic sorbents include cross-linked polymers and rubber materials, which absorb liquids into their solid structure, causing the sorbent material to swell. Most synthetic sorbents can absorb up 70 times their own weight in oil.

The characteristics of both sorbents and oil types must be considered when choosing sorbents for cleaning up oil spills:

Any sorbent materials may need to be listed on the National Contingency Plan, Subpart J, Product Schedule. Please contact the EPA Oil Program at 703-603-8760.