Coast Guard:

Oil Spills Continue Despite Waterfront Facility Inspection Program

RCED-91-161: Published: Jun 17, 1991. Publicly Released: Jul 17, 1991.

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Kenneth M. Mead
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined federal efforts to protect the marine environment from petroleum pollution caused by oil spills from pipelines and waterfront facilities, focusing on whether the Coast Guard's: (1) responsibility for regulating and inspecting waterfront facilities was adequately defined; and (2) waterfront facilities inspection program reduced the risk of oil spills.

GAO found that: (1) although the Coast Guard implemented a program to regulate and inspect waterfront facilities, it did not meet its full responsibility, since it did not inspect portions of intrafacility pipes that transport oil between docks and tank storage areas; (2) since the 1971 memorandum of understanding between the Department of Transportation (DOT) and the Environmental Protection Agency did not clearly assign specific responsibility for the oversight of transportation-related pipes, neither agency inspected pipes between the first valve ashore and the storage tank areas; (3) pipes at 17 of the 23 facilities examined had not been inspected, and for the pipes examined, up to 56,700 gallons of oil could spill in the 3 minutes it would take to reach the shut-down valve; (4) neither local nor headquarters officials compiled the basic information needed to determine the effectiveness of their inspection efforts; (5) the Coast Guard could not determine the effectiveness of its inspection program on reducing the risk of oil spills, since such basic information as the types, severity, and frequency of deficiencies found by inspectors was not compiled and linked with information on the causes of oil spills found by investigators; (6) inspectors identified 1 to 27 deficiencies in over 58 percent of the inspections; and (7) 57 percent of 1,402 spills investigated occurred during the transfer of oil between a facility and a vessel.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: On August 31, 1991, the Coast Guard directed its field inspectors to inspect pipes which transport oil between loading docks and the storage tank areas.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that waterfront facility pipelines transporting oil between the dock and storage tanks are inspected.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Necessary changes to the Marine Safety Information System have been completed. Information on facility inspection pollution incidents and violation histories is now included. These data are being used to set program management goals and to target inspections. Also, a new standard inspection manual was issued during the first quarter of fiscal year 1994.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Coast Guard to: (1) record and collect information on the results of its inspections, including the type, severity, and frequency of deficiencies found, as well as information from its investigation of spills, such as regulations that have not been complied with; and (2) use this information to set measurable goals, assess inspection program effectiveness, and improve its inspection strategy and resource use.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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