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March 01, 2024
Expert Tip: SPCC: An Ounce of Prevention...

Oil spills have always been a risk for industrial operations. They conjure up images of devastated ecosystems, oil-covered animals, and contaminated drinking water. Fortunately, these major events are few and far between. However, smaller scale oil spills are much more common. Although much less in volume, these spills present a danger as well. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a one-gallon oil spill can contaminate a million gallons of water. The federal Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations provide a framework for oil storage facilities to prevent oil from reaching navigable waters and adjoining shorelines, and to contain discharges of oil.


SPCC regulations apply to facilities that:

  • Are non-transportation-related;
  • Are engaged in drilling, producing, gathering, storing, processing, refining, transferring, distributing, using or consuming oil;
  • May be reasonably be expected to discharge oil in quantities that may be harmful into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines; and
  • Have total aggregate capacity of aboveground oil storage containers is greater than 1,320 gallons of oil (Not counting containers less than 55 gallons, permanently closed containers, motive power containers, or storage containers used exclusively for wastewater treatment); or
  • Have total aggregate capacity of completely buried storage tanks greater than 42,000 gallons of oil.

Make a Plan

If your facility meets these criteria, an SPCC plan is needed. This plan describes oil handling operations, spill prevention practices, discharge or drainage controls, and the personnel, equipment and resources at the facility used to prevent oil spills from reaching navigable waters or adjoining shorelines. Although each SPCC Plan is unique to the facility, there are certain elements that must be described in every plan including:

  • Spill prevention operating procedures, such as monitoring and tank design
  • Spill control measures, such as secondary containment
  • Mitigation and cleanup measures if an oil spill does occur


Once the plan is complete, it must be certified by a Professional Engineer (PE), with a few exceptions. Facilities may self-certify if the facility total aboveground oil storage capacity is 10,000 gallons or less, and in the three years before the SPCC Plan is certified, the facility has had no discharges to navigable waters or adjoining shorelines of a single discharge of oil greater than 1,000 gallons, or two discharges of oil each greater than 42 gallons within any 12-month period.
Many states have adopted federal regulations. Check your state’s individual regulations for stricter requirements. By following the SPCC requirements, facilities can avoid costly fines, loss of reputation, and be responsible stewards of the environment.