Unfortunately, accidental oil spills can and do take place. When they do, it’s imperative that organizations have a plan to combat and contain them.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that facilities in a variety of industries with 1 million gallons of oil or more stored on-site and from which a release could impact sensitive environments prepare a Facility Response Plan (FRP) in accordance with 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 112.20. Preparation of these detailed documents can be costly and time-consuming — and must be updated and resubmitted to the EPA every five years.

Under normal conditions, the EPA randomly selects facilities for an audit of its FRP. Since the beginning of the pandemic, however, the occurrence of these random audits appears to have picked up. Throughout this process, the EPA has started conducting desktop audits to take a closer look at these documents and are subsequently finding issues with FRPs.

Burns & McDonnell has specifically seen an uptick in desktop audits from EPA Regions 4, 6, 7 and 8. This has resulted in some facilities receiving comment letters from the EPA requesting changes to its FRP.

These audits are nothing to fear, and often the information needed to complete the request is readily available, falling within five specific sections of 40 CFR 112, Appendix F, or the outline organizations should follow to develop an FRP. Having a better understanding of how the EPA is scrutinizing these areas will allow facilities to more effectively update their FRPs and prepare for a potential audit.

  1. Section 1.3.1

This section of the outline requires facilities include a list of emergency notification phone numbers in the FRP. Certain agencies are required to be included on the list, but there is also a list of recommended agencies, such as wastewater treatment facilities, trustees, factories or utilities that could have surface water intakes within potential spill boundaries. Because these numbers are listed as recommended, many facilities do not include them in the FRP. In recent audits, however, the EPA has asked that these recommended phone numbers be included.

To meet this adjustment, it is important that facilities include wastewater treatment plant numbers and understand that the term “trustees” refers to natural resource agencies associated with the potential spill area. This can include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture and numbers for tribal land administration within spill boundaries.

  1. Section 1.3.2

Because storage of emergency response equipment is expensive, most facilities keep only a minimal amount on hand — relying instead on spill response contractors or oil spill removal organizations (ORSO) for most such needs. Section 1.3.2 requires that all facility-owned equipment is listed.

For years, many facilities have simply listed absorbent socks, booms, spill mats and skimmer pumps, which doesn’t meet the requirements of Section 1.3.2. Now, the EPA is asking that facilities list specifics about this equipment to better understand its total absorbent capabilities.

Fortunately, this information is easy to obtain, and it’s a good idea for facilities to go back and look at equipment lists to make them more specific. Including all information from the table in Section 1.3.2 — such as the type of absorbent materials available, the year each was purchased, all absorbency ratings, where each material is stored, pumping rates for pumps and even hand tools used during response — will meet these requirements.

In addition, facilities must have access to 1,000 feet of containment boom within an hour. Many facilities rely on spill response contractors to fulfill this requirement. The contract between the facility and the spill response contractor must be kept with the FRP. If a facility has a contract with an OSRO, U.S. Coast Guard ratings indicate how much equipment an OSRO has on hand and should be included in the plan. If the facility is not utilizing an OSRO, the contract with the spill response contractor must include the list of equipment available from the contractor.

Finally, the spill response contractor or OSRO is required to deploy its equipment annually, then send a letter to its contracted facilities to verify this deployment. A facility must maintain these letters and perform its own semiannual equipment exercises to test operations and equipment.

  1. Section 1.4.2

A government-initiated unannounced exercise (GIUE) occurs when the EPA comes to a facility’s site and requires a spill drill to demonstrate FRP operations. To do this, a facility must perform an equipment deployment drill for a small spill scenario (2,100 gallons), and the response location must take place off facility property on navigable water — like a creek or river — that is within spill distance.

Many facilities anticipate these spill drills will be conducted within the property to deploy response equipment, but the EPA wants to verify a facility can respond to areas off-site. To do so, facilities must discuss the small spill scenario in the FRP, including a description of locations where they will respond to a spill in navigable water off-site.

  1. Section 1.5.2

Calculations for a worst-case discharge, spill planning distance release within 27 hours and the quantity of response resources needed, such as storage space, must be included in the FRP.

The work for these calculations must be shown in an appendix within the FRP. While worksheets and equations are provided in appendices of 40 CFR 112, the EPA needs to see the completed Worst-Case Discharge and Response Resources worksheets, and the assumptions and equations used as a basis for the spill planning distance calculation must be provided.

  1. Section 1.9

Section 1.9 details requirements for three figures: a site plan diagram, a site drainage plan, and an evacuation diagram.

Specific items are often unintentionally omitted from the drainage plan, including locations of firefighting water resources, sanitary and storm sewers and other utilities. Assets such as buried gas lines, overhead power lines or any equipment that might be impacted by excavation or big equipment must be listed.

Typically, if something is not applicable, a facility has not included it on its figure. To meet the EPA’s requirement, facilities must add notes to its figures that specifically indicate why certain items listed on the figure in Section 1.9 are not applicable.

Staying Prepared

Developing an FRP takes time and can be a costly endeavor. Maintaining updates requires that facilities understand and implement technical changes at the facility and amend the FRP accordingly — refer to 40 CFR 112.20(a)(iv)(4) — to address issues that might occur at the facility. If no technical changes occur at a facility, the FRP should be reviewed every five years. As the EPA continues to perform desktop audits, facilities are finding that certain details that may have been overlooked before are being noted, negatively impacting the work of environmental managers and facility operations.

By keeping such common issues in mind while performing FRP updates, facility owners and operators can better prepare for random audits and avoid potential letters requiring changes to the document.


Implementing and following a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) program is imperative to preventing public health hazards and avoiding environmental crises.

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Amy Reed, PE, is an associate environmental engineer, compliance audit team member and project manager at Burns & McDonnell. A chemical engineer by training with over 20 years of experience, she specializes in helping industrial and utility clients comply with EPA regulations.