By Joe Pecoraro
Farmers need a plan to control oil and gas products in case of spills
Charles Parker, a cotton farmer in southeast Missouri, can think of several ways to spend $13,000. Installing a secondary fuel containment structure isn’t at the top of his list, but that’s exactly what Parker will be building this fall. He knows the clock is ticking to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) rule.
"The contamination area, after concrete and construction costs, will run at least $12,500," says Parker, who farms near Senath, Mo., and is chairman of the National Cotton Council. "I’ve never had a spill in my life and don’t see that I would, but I’d rather get it taken care of than deal with the hassle [of not complying]."
While SPCC might sound like a college football conference acronym, it’s actually an effort to ensure petroleum products don’t enter the U.S. water supply. Authorized by the Clean Water Act, it helps facilities, including farms, prevent a discharge of oil into navigable waters or adjoining shorelines.
A key element of the program requires farms to develop, maintain and implement an oil spill prevention plan, called an SPCC Plan. These plans are intended to help farms prevent oil spills, as well as help control a spill should one occur.
Specifically, the SPCC rule applies to producers storing more than 1,320 gal. of petroleum products above ground or 42,000 gal. in containers buried completely underground, where a discharge might find its way to a shoreline, lake, river or stream.
Do you qualify? Farms that began operation after Aug. 16, 2002, have until Nov. 10, 2011, to prepare a SPCC Plan. Farms that began operation before August 2002 are expected to already have a plan implemented or work to have one as soon as possible.
EPA spokesperson Kris Lancaster says farms with a total oil storage capacity between 1,320 gal. and 10,000 gal. in aboveground containers, and that have a good spill history, may prepare and self-certify their own SPCC Plan. Farms with a storage capacity of more than 10,000 gal., or that have had an oil spill, must have their plan certified by an engineer.
"Since 2002, most of the amendments to the program have been to reduce the burden on small businesses, including farmers," Lancaster says. "Most recently, the program was changed so that farmers can self-certify if they store less than 10,000 gal. and have no containers larger than 5,000 gal. They can fill out a fill-in-the-blank plan that becomes their SPCC Plan."
Because Parker stores more than 10,000 gal. of oil products on his farm, he is not able to self-certify. He’s working with an engineer to build a concrete structure that will contain fuel in the event of a spill.
Plan just in case. Plans must include a written list of petroleum storage locations and a description of the steps used to transfer fuel from storage tanks to farm vehicles. You must also detail measures that will be used in the event of a spill and keep a list of emergency contacts.
The most difficult and expensive part is providing effective secondary containment. Double-walled tanks and earthen or concrete dikes that hold the full capacity of your storage containers plus rainfall are options.
Jean Payne, president of the Illinois Fertilizer and Chemical Association, says most farmers know they need to comply, and want to comply. "There just hasn’t been a common sense, easy-to-use way to do that," she says.
That changed in early October when EPA approved a simple, web-based tool, developed by the Asmark Institute and the Fertilizer Institute, to help growers and ag retailers comply with the SPCC rule. It can be accessed at www.asmark.org/mySPCC.