Special Topics in Environmental Management

Popular SPCC Questions Answered

Under the new rules (the amendments passed in 2010), what are the excess volume requirements for secondary containment?

Under the new rules, there was a lot of debate about this in past versions of SPCC rules and past SPCC enforcements. Basically, the rule says you must have secondary containment equal to the amount of oil contained in the largest single container within the containment, plus adequate excess capacity for precipitation. I think that’s the language in the new rule. It was the language in the old rule. There was a lot of discussion of what that meant. And this is one of these points where if you have a professional engineer certify your plan, this is one of the things that your engineer is specifically certifying. They’re certifying that they’ve done an engineering analysis or calculation and said this amount of containment is adequate to contain a spill even if we have an unexpected amount of precipitation. There’s a rule of thumb that has been defended many times that your containment capacity should be 110 percent of the largest single container, so 10 percent over the volume, but again, this is a point that is subject to engineering analysis, and if you have a tank failure and because of a rainstorm the oil overflows your containment and makes a big mess, you’re probably going to get challenged on this point unless you can show that you had an engineer do the calculations.

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If certification is actually going to be done by a facility owner, which I assume will be at smaller locations, what are the risks associated with self-certification?

First of all, you wouldn’t want to sign any plan that you didn’t believe clearly met the requirements. You want to have the plan meet the requirements before someone signs it. Because if you have a significant oil spill, you can expect that your SPCC plan will be reviewed very thoroughly, and any weakness in it may become subject for an enforcement action. So one risk that you’re taking when you sign your own plan is that if you do have a specific incident, the decision that went into developing that plan and signing it may come into question. The other risk is if you sign a plan that in some way clearly does not meet the requirements, you may be exposed to risk of enforcement on an inspection.

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Please talk a little bit about lift oil reservoirs, such as vehicle lifts and elevators. Are they covered in the plan as oil storage containers or are they considered oil-filled operational equipment?

I’m going to talk about this in terms of hydraulic systems, because a vehicle lift or an elevator that’s hydraulic is a kind of hydraulic equipment, but there are many different kinds of hydraulic equipment that you’ll see in a facility. A real common one is a trash compactor. Trash compactors are typically hydraulic. So, are these covered by the SPCC rule? Well, the easy answer is “yes.” They have oil in them. So they’re potentially covered. The next question is, how much oil does the system have in it? If your lift has more than 55 gallons (gal) of oil or more in it, it’s subject to the SPCC rule. And that’s true for other kinds of hydraulic systems. And this applies to all kinds of hydraulic equipment—again, trash compactors, or large machine tools that are hydraulically powered or have a hydraulic system in them. Other kinds of equipment that are hydraulic are all subject. Now, there is an exception to this. Hydraulic systems that are on a vehicle and are responsible for motion that the vehicle makes are exempt. So, a hydraulic crane, for example, wouldn’t be subject. That would be what’s called in the rule motive power equipment.