By P.J. Griekspoor and Paula Mohr
Farmers who maintain storage facilities for diesel fuel, gasoline or other petroleum products are facing a deadline of May 10 to have a written plan in place for handling a spill, the latest deadline in ongoing regulations designed to make sure spills of petroleum products do not contaminate waterways.
EPA's Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures regulation is intended to prevent oil and oil products from reaching the waters of the U.S. and adjoining shorelines.
Regulations have been in place for years requiring some kind of containment barrier around storage tanks that contain fuel and other petroleum products, such as motor oil, hydraulic fluids or lubricants, says Steve Swaffar, Kansas Farm Bureau interim government affairs director.
"What is new is the requirement that every operator have a written plan for how a spill will be contained and cleaned up to prevent it from entering U.S. waters," he says. "It was originally set to take effect three years ago, but EPA delayed implementation. Now, it looks like if you don't have a plan in place by May 10, you are going to be subject to civil penalties."
The plan must spell out what products are stored, what the volume of each tank is, what kind of containment is in place and what action will be taken if there is a spill. It also requires that farm employees be trained about handling a spill and disposing of the waste product, any contaminated absorbent materials used and any contaminated soil.
"There is an exception to the regulation if you can prove there is no way that a spill from your tank could ever, under any circumstances hit waters of the U.S.," he says. "But the bar has been set very high on that proof and it is my opinion that most people would not be able to get there."
Swaffar notes the regulations are a "hassle" for ag operators, because they aren't simply storing petroleum products in the way that the tank farms attached to pump jacks store oil. Plus, farm shops, often have 55-gallon drums of hydraulic fluid or oil on hand because it is less expensive to buy in bulk. Farmers would have to figure out some kind of containment system in the shop.
He says the simplest solution would be double-walled tanks.
"If you are building new fuel storage, then a double-walled tank is an obvious solution," he says. "Retrofitting is another thing altogether. And many of the units are way too large for the average farm user."
Many farmers have reluctantly begun to comply with the regulation but they still see it as unreasonable and unnecessary. In addition, farmers say the record-keeping alone places an undue burden on their resources.
"They are right to an extent," Swaffar says. "It is a regulation that was never intended for the kind of storage that farmers have. It was aimed an oil and gas company tank farms and bigger fuel handling facilities. That's why we tried for the ag exemption. But at the same time, if there were an ag exemption, I can see where the oil and gas operator might say their tank farm is on agricultural land and therefore is exempt and you'd be seeing an ongoing situation."
He said he dislikes the fact that the regulation is not risk-based and simply puts a blanket rule into place for every operator.
"I'd like it better if there was a risk analysis that looked at how likely a spill is and what the chances of it being a problem are. If you are 200 feet from a road ditch or creek, then it's a bigger issue than if you are out in the middle of nowhere where it is five miles to the nearest road ditch and there are no streams," Swaffar says.
At the same time, most large farms have already put containment structures in place to meet the long-standing requirement for them.
Still, farmers are going to need to follow the law.
"Being out of compliance means facing a fine," he says. "If you are out of compliance and you have a spill, then you have a public relations problem as well as a fine. My recommendation is that farmers comply with the containment system requirements and that they get their plan in place by May 10."
The Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures Plan is the facility owner's plan for preventing a spill and retaining the oil on site in case of a spill from aboveground oil storage tanks and containers. This regulation has been in existence since 1974 and was applicable to farms if they met the threshold oil storage capacity, and there was a reasonable expectation that a discharge could get to waters of the U.S.
The farming industry was granted an extension to comply with this regulation. Currently, farmers who meet the SPCC criteria have until May 10 to update old plans or develop and implement new SPCC plans.
A farmer will be expected to develop and implement an SPCC plan if his/her farm meets all the criteria listed below:
•Stores or transfers oil or oil products such as gasoline, on and off-road diesel, hydraulic and lube oil, animal fats and vegetable oils, adjuvant oil, etc.
•Stores more than 1,320 gallons in above ground tanks or 42,000 gallons below ground
•In case of a spill, could reasonably be expected to discharge to a U.S. waterway or shoreline
In April of 2011 the EPA exempted all milk and milk product containers from the SPCC requirements therefore these planning and structural requirements do not include bulk tanks on dairy farms.
Farmers may self-certify their SPCC plan without the services of a professional engineer if they have less than 10,000 gallons total above ground oil storage capacity and have had no spills to the waters of the U.S. in the past three years.
Some of the information provided in an SPCC plan would include:
•A list of oil containers on the farm and containment provided for them
•A description of measures that will prevent oil from reaching surface waters
•Clean up procedures if a spill should occur
•A contact list in case of a spill including first responders
•A five-year review and evaluation of their plan for changes and updates