Will the BP Oil Spill Impact Environmental Enforcement?

Prior to April 20, 2010, those who work in the environmental and legal communities were among the small circle of people familiar with environmental permitting and planning.  The explosion and fire on the BP-licensed Transocean drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, located in the Gulf of Mexico, changed this in a dramatic fashion.  Eleven people died, seventeen were injured, and the leak continues to exact its toll on the environment and surrounding communities.

What has come into focus as this story has been covered in the media is the unfortunate reality that environmental permitting and planning is far too often not taken seriously by both the facilities and the regulators.  Some of the more surprising oversights noted in the BP plan were references to emergency contacts that were deceased or retired.  The plans even included steps for protecting sensitive biological resources such as walruses and sea lions, which don’t live in the Gulf of Mexico.  Environmental permits and plans are important, but when they are viewed as a “checkmark” they may not be properly prioritized.    

Following this rather public incident, the regulated community should be on their collective toes relative to not only the fulfillment of appropriate and current environmental permits and plans, but the implementation of these plans. The pressure may not just come from state and federal regulators, but other stakeholders, shareholders, local communities, and even activist groups.

Many of the current requirements for oil storage and use were instituted during the last public environmental “disaster” involving oil, the Exxon Valdez spill.  With the extensive media coverage and scrutiny that the BP issue is receiving, it will not be surprising to see new legislation applied to chemical storage.  The fines and penalties for non-compliance with the planning and permitting requirements for chemical storage facilities may seem substantial.  But, when horrific accidents such as the Deepwater Horizon incident occur, fines and penalties may be the least of the concerns.

Although your environmental management issues may not be the same magnitude as BP, here are ten questions to consider for your permits and plans: 

  1. Are your permits and plans up-to-date and have you checked them recently?
  2. Are your permits and plans “implemented?”
  3. Do you know all of the permits and plans that are necessary for your facility? For example Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan, Risk Management Plan, Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan, RCRA Contingency Plan, Emergency Response Plan.
  4. Does your general housekeeping appear orderly?  If not, you may attract attention that could lead to a regulatory inspection.
  5. Are drums properly stored and sealed?
  6. Are AST and UST registrations and records up-to-date?
  7. Are lockout/tagout requirements in place?
  8. Is your confined space entry training program current?
  9. Are your employees trained in proper response methods?
  10. Is emergency response equipment functional?

If you have questions or concerns about environmental compliance, contact Matthew Schroeder, P.E. (mschroeder@dragun.com) or Jeff Bolin, CHMM (jbolin@dragun.com) at 248.932.0228.

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