EPA Amends Oil-Spill Cleanup Requirements To Address Toxicity, Efficacy

June 21, 2023
Spurred by Deepwater Horizon, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan is getting updates.

In 2010 Chemical Processing’s Mark Rosenzweig penned a column looking toward the future of oil-spill response. With news of the then recent Deepwater Horizon underwater oil well blowout, which discharged significant quantities of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Rosenzweig ruminated: “Expect a lasting legacy after oil finally stops flowing into the Gulf of Mexico from the well drilled by the Deepwater Horizon. Cleanup and restoration will take a long time, probably decades. Long-term changes in spill-response planning and regulation undoubtedly also will occur.”

Now in 2023, the Environmental Protection Agency is finally amending the requirements in Subpart J of the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) that govern the use of dispersants, other chemicals and other spill mitigating substances when responding to oil discharges into jurisdictional waters of the United States. The EPA also referenced Deepwater Horizon, stating it raised questions about efficacy, toxicity, environmental tradeoffs and the challenges of making dispersant use decisions in response operations for certain atypical dispersant use situations. The final rule will be effective December 11, 2023.

According to the Federal Register, this action addresses the efficacy and toxicity of dispersants and other chemical and biological agents, as well as public, state, local and federal officials' concerns regarding their use. Specifically, the EPA is amending the Subpart J regulatory requirements for the NCP Product Schedule in two distinct ways. First, the EPA is adding new listing criteria, revising the efficacy and toxicity testing protocols, and clarifying the evaluation criteria for removing products from the NCP Product Schedule. Second, the EPA is amending requirements for the authorities, notifications and data reporting when using chemical or biological agents in response to oil discharges to Clean Water Act section 311 jurisdictional waters and adjoining shorelines. These requirements are anticipated to encourage the development of safer and more effective spill mitigating products and better target the use of these products to reduce the risks of oil discharges and response technologies to human health and the environment.

EPA estimates that, to comply with the revised requirements, industry may incur a total incremental cost of approximately $283,800 to $376,500 annually. Note that the range in annualized cost reflects differences due to using 3% and 7% discount rates as well as a range (low and high) for submitter's paperwork burden. This action does not impose significant impacts on a substantial number of small entities. The Regulatory Impact Analysis, which can be found in the docket (Docket ID No. EPA–HQ–OPA–2006–0090), provides more detail on the cost methodology and benefits of this action.

About the Author

Traci Purdum | Editor-in-Chief

Traci Purdum, an award-winning business journalist with extensive experience covering manufacturing and management issues, is a graduate of the Kent State University School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Kent, Ohio, and an alumnus of the Wharton Seminar for Business Journalists, Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

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