Oil Spills

An oil spill is is a form of pollution that releases liquid petroleum hydrocarbon into the environment.  Oil spills that occur in the ocean are often called marine oil spills.  Oil includes crude oil, refined petroleum products  or by-products, ships’ bunkers, oily refuse or oil mixed in waste.  It takes months or even years to clean up a spill.

Sea birds are most affected by oil spills.  The oil penetrates and opens up the structure of the plumage of birds making them more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations and much less buoyant in the water.  It also impairs birds’ flight abilities.  Marine mammals exposed to oil spills are also affected in similar ways.  Oil coats the fur of sea otters and seals, reducing its insulation abilities, leading to body temperature fluctuations and hypothermia.

Oil spills limit the photosynthesis of marine plants and phytoplankton because less light penetrates into the water through the oil.  The oil spills also decrease the fauna populations, affecting the food chain in the ecosystem.

The EPA is the lead federal response agency for oil spills occurring in inland waters of the US.  The U.S. Coast Guard is the lead response agency for spills in coastal waters and deepwater ports.

The EPA provides oil pollution activities such as:

  • Facility Response Plan (FRP) Rule  provides that facilities that store and use oil must submit plans to respond to a worst-case discharge of oil and to a substantial threat of such a discharge.
  • National Contingency Plan (NCP) subpart J product schedule provides for a schedule of spill mitigating devices and substances that may be authorized for use on oil discharges.
  • Oil Spills and Hazardous Substance releases provide that regulated facilities must report discharges of oil or releases of hazardous substances to EPA and/or other federal, state, and local government agencies.
  • Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule provides that certain facilities must prepare, amend, and implement SPCC Plans to address the potential for a discharge of oil.

Inside Oil Spills