Energy Management:

Extent of Crude Oil Contamination Is Uncertain

RCED-90-114BR: Published: Mar 8, 1990. Publicly Released: Apr 13, 1990.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed allegations of crude oil contamination, focusing on: (1) the extent and types of contamination; (2) how environmental legislation has affected the contamination issue; and (3) corrective actions that the government and the oil industry have taken concerning crude oil contamination.

GAO found that: (1) oil industry officials identified 40 cases of crude oil contamination occurring from 1982 to 1989, and 3 of those cases resulted in damaged refinery equipment or refinery fires; (2) all 40 cases involved chloride, iodine, alcohol, bromine, nitrogen, or iron contamination; (3) government and industry officials could not agree on the extent of crude oil contamination, but the Environmental Protection Agency and other government agencies generally believed that refining the contaminated oil would not cause unusual risks to health and the environment; (4) although environmental legislation generally prohibited disposal of hazardous wastes in crude oil, it exempted certain hazardous waste generated from oil exploration and production, and toxic substances found in used oil; (5) eight of nine oil refineries conducted routine testing of crude oil for basic properties, but limited the frequency and accuracy of testing for toxic materials; (6) three oil companies had taken legal or other actions against suppliers suspected of providing contaminated crude oil; and (7) state and federal regulatory agencies had taken only limited action to prevent crude oil contamination.

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