The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is charged with ensuring facilities that store or handle oil comply with the Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations set forth in 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 112. Inspections may be announced or unannounced, and can be triggered by: national enforcement initiatives, referrals from state or local authorities, spills, multi-media inspections, or a facility incident. I'd like to share with you the four stages of a typical SPCC inspection.
Stage 1: Opening Conference
Inspections begin with an opening conference where the EPA establishes inspection authority, discusses the scope of the inspection, obtains a general overview of the facility and its organizational structure, makes logistical arrangements, and discusses the facility and its operation. The facility representative may be asked to explain spill prevention measures and describe topics such as training and facility tank inspections.
The EPA will follow a detailed SPCC checklist that is designed to assist inspectors in conducting a thorough and nationally consistent inspection. The checklist covers several elements, including:
- Requirements for preparation of a SPCC Plan (applicability, availability on-site, date of facility operation, PE certification, etc.)
- Amendment of SPCC Plan by Regional Administrator (may be required for certain spill incidents)
- Amendment of SPCC Plan by the Owner or Operator (changes at the facility, review of the Plan, etc.)
- General SPCC Requirements (containment, drainage, facility inspections, etc.)
Stage 2: Facility Walkthrough
A facility walkthrough will follow the opening conference. During the walkthrough, the inspector will observe tanks, piping, loading racks, transfer areas, drainage controls, security measures, etc. The EPA may also discuss SPCC implementation, take photographs, and conduct interviews. Spill response equipment may be inspected, and compliance assistance may be offered. Records of facility inspections may also be reviewed.
Stage 3: Closing Conference
During the closing conference, inspectors will complete the SPCC inspection checklist. As such, the inspectors will attempt to fill in data gaps and answer questions. They may also identify potential deficiencies, but typically do not provide agency compliance determinations at this time.
Stage 4: Post Inspection
Following an inspection, the EPA will find the facility to be either in compliance or out of compliance. If found in compliance, the EPA will follow-up and close the case. If found out of compliance, the EPA may proceed with one of the following actions:
- Facility Provided Notice (post inspection letter, notice of deficiencies, notice of violations)
- Expedited Settlement Agreement
- EPA Orders Under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act
- Enforcement Action (penalty actions, Dept. of Justice referral)
- Compliance Action Enforcement/follow-up
- Case Closure.
Common violations from inspections:
- No SPCC Plan (typically found at facilities that did not know they were regulated e.g., small facilities, farms, and construction sites)
- No PE certification
- No records of facility tests or inspections
- No or inadequate secondary containment
- Open drain valves
- Failure to address mobile/portable containers, including refueler vehicles
How can you prepare for your next inspection?
The best way to be prepared for an EPA inspection is to have a professional engineer familiar with the SPCC rule perform a compliance review of the facility as part of their SPCC Plan services. A thorough compliance review will include an evaluation of physical features (e.g., tank construction, overfill prevention, secondary containment, drainage controls, etc.) and procedures (e.g., oil transfers, tests and inspections, record keeping, etc.). Items found not to be in compliance must be corrected.
Once the physical features of a facility are compliant with the regulations, the facility must implement the procedures for required tests and inspections established by the professional engineer that certifies the SPCC Plan. By following these steps and maintaining proper records, a facility will be well prepared for an EPA inspection.
Bill Frye The Fuel Farm Guy (apologies to Bill Nye The Science Guy)
Here are some other helpful posts: