Inland Oil Spills:

Stronger Regulation and Enforcement Needed to Avoid Future Incidents

RCED-89-65: Published: Feb 22, 1989. Publicly Released: Feb 27, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO assessed the adequacy of federal regulation of above-ground oil storage tanks and the federal inland oil spill removal program.

GAO found that the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) regulations did not require oil storage facility operators to: (1) construct and test tanks using industry standards; (2) prepare responses to accidental discharges of oil onto adjacent property; or (3) design and operate storm water drainage systems to prevent oil spills. GAO also found that: (1) EPA did not have information regarding the number, age, and location of oil storage facilities and the construction and operation of tanks; (2) the EPA inspection program did not prioritize inspections according to the threat posed to the environment, and inspections were sometimes superficial and poorly documented; (3) despite numerous oil spills and other violations, 7 of the 10 EPA regions have not levied fines; (4) EPA eliminated its spill response research program in 1987 because of budget constraints; and (5) EPA did not recover the costs of monitoring cleanups conducted by private parties, even though such costs were often substantial.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Congress has amended the Clean Water Act in accordance with the recommendation.

    Matter: Congress may wish to amend the Clean Water Act to explicitly authorize the federal government to recover the costs of monitoring oil spill cleanups performed by private responsible parties.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No specific research on inland oil spills has been undertaken due to budget constraints.

    Recommendation: With the goal of improving responses to future oil spills, the Administrator, EPA, should determine whether to reestablish the oil spill research and development program, taking into account anticipated benefits, costs, and program priorities.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: No action has been taken or planned on this recommendation due to higher agency priorities.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the safety of the nation's above-ground oil storage facilities and decrease the chances of oil being discharged into the environment, the Administrator, EPA, should determine the advantages and disadvantages of supplementing EPA inspection resources by: (1) using state and local inspection resources; and (2) requiring that facilities obtain certification from independent engineers that facilities are in compliance with regulations.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Resource limitations have prevented a major increase in inspections.

    Recommendation: To better ensure the safety of the nation's above-ground oil storage facilities and decrease the chances of oil being discharged into the environment, the Administrator, EPA, should strengthen the EPA above-ground oil storage facility inspection program by: (1) developing, in coordination with state and local authorities, a system of inspection priorities, based on a national inventory of tanks; (2) developing instructions for performing and documenting inspections; (3) defining and implementing minimum training needs for inspectors; and (4) establishing a national policy for fining violators.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  4. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Action on revising regulations has stalled.

    Recommendation: To improve the likelihood that above-ground oil storage tanks are built to industry standards and decrease the chances of future damaging oil spills, the Administrator, EPA, should amend the oil pollution prevention regulations to require that: (1) above-ground oil storage tanks be built and tested in accordance with industry or other specified standards; (2) facilities plan how to react to a spill that overflows the facility boundaries; and (3) storm water drainage systems be designed and operated to prevent oil from escaping through them.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

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