Special Topics in Environmental Management

SPCC Environmental Equivalence—Select Examples

Although the SPCC rule overall is very specific about pollution prevention and requirements for preventing spills, choosing environmentally equivalent solutions that deviate from the requirements takes an even more exacting approach. To provide the regulated community with a better understanding of what the EPA expects in alternative methods, the agency offered a number of scenarios in its 2013 Revised Guidance for Regional Inspectors.

With regard to facility drainage, for example, the SPCC rule at 40 CFR Part 112 provides requirements in 112.8(b) and 112.12(b) for onshore petroleum and nonpetroleum oil and animal/vegetable oil facilities, respectively. These sections establish design specifications for drainage systems used as secondary containment to prevent oil discharges, including those for valves used to drain a dike or berm. According to regulations, these valves must be “of manual, open-and-closed design and not a flapper design, unless the facility drainage system is equipped to control oil discharges.”


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However, if the owner/operator and the PE certifying a SPCC plan choose to consider alternative technologies to prevent oil from leaving the containment and drainage control system, they might consider “certain valves (that) are engineered to automatically shut off upon detecting oil.” The EPA states that such valves have a history of being installed at electrical substations and, when properly implemented and maintained, may provide environmental protection equivalent to the combination of manual valve operation and visual monitoring. The EPA also recommends the systems have a “fail-safe design” to automatically prevent an oil discharge during a system malfunction.

Another example concerns facility security. In 2008 the EPA amended facility security requirements (73 FR 74236, December 5, 2008) making them more performance-based and giving owners/operators greater latitude in deciding which security measures are most appropriate based on “specific characteristics and location.” Thanks to this increased flexibility, there may be less need for environmental equivalence. However, the EPA concedes that in some cases, a PE may determine that a deviation is necessary.


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One such situation might be at a very large facility where oil containers and equipment are located in a separate area, segregated from the rest of the operations. Rather than fencing the entire footprint of such a large facility, a PE may determine that fencing and securing only that segregated portion of the site with a potential for a spill or discharge will provide the required level of protection. Specifically, the EPA notes that fencing only the areas where oil containers and associated appurtenances (such as valves, pumps, and pipelines) and any equipment required to operate the containers and appurtenances may be considered to adequately deter unauthorized entry and vandalism. Other alternative methods may also include 24-hour on-site security with closed-circuit cameras, if that is determined to be equally or more protective than the requirements defined in 112.7(g) (which do not apply to oil production facilities).

These are just two brief examples of EPA’s expectations about environmental equivalence under the SPCC rule and, in all cases, alternative measures must be defined, explained, and detailed in a PE-certified SPCC Plan. Another important aspect of environmental equivalency is that, unlike impracticability claims for secondary containment where cost cannot be the sole consideration, facility owners/operators may consider cost as one of the factors in the decision to implement an alternative measure. Thus, facility owners/operators, in conjunction with a PE, have the opportunity to reduce their SPCC compliance costs if they choose an alternative that provides the required environmental protection.