Since its inception, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90) was intended to greatly improve the ability to respond to large spills in the United States and has been the subject of frequent discussion and debate within the United States and elsewhere. Its provisions created new regulatory programs, expanded existing requirements, and established a variety of competency requirements for those entities and personnel involved in the production, transport, handling, or storage of petroleum within the United States.

Tens upon tens of articles have been published in prior Proceedings of the International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) and in many other venues about legislative intent, subsequent regulatory programs and their implementation, interagency negotiations, industry compliance successes or difficulties, training issues, etc. OPA 90 has also had an impact on U.S. policies internationally and in U.S. participation in international spill conventions/treaties.

In recognition of a decade's passage since its enactment, IOSC sponsors commissioned a review and analysis of the effectiveness of OPA 90 and the interrelationship of OPA 90 with other oil spill laws and rules in the world. Another important purpose was to identify issues for the related panel discussion of this topic at the 2001 IOSC.

This review was conducted using a questionnaire to acquire input from a broad range of individuals with OPA 90 expertise and experience. An informal survey of 57 questions in four sections was prepared and distributed to 22 participants. These participants were selected to represent a core of knowledge about OPA 90 and its history of implementation. Findings from the survey are presented to foster discussion and debate, educate members of the spill response community, assist with resolution of outstanding issues, and help focus on future issues that will need attention.

The rate of response to the survey questions was high and enabled a broad review of the effectiveness of some of the various OPA 90 requirements. Questions were in either multiple-choice or essay format. Commonalties, differences, and issues were identified from all responses and used to evaluate OPA 90. From the commonalties and differences in the responses, selected OPA 90 requirements were classified as effective or ineffective. Based on an analysis of multiple-choice and essay answers, respondents generally agreed that OPA 90 was moderately effective (across all covered provisions). Closer examination of the four survey sections, however, indicated distinct concerns and benefits derived from implementation of OPA 90. In addition, where OPA 90 provisions were judged effective, caveats sometimes followed.

Despite the effective rating of many OPA 90 prevention provisions, prevention still needs more attention based on the opinions of the survey respondents. Some respondents felt more attention and resources often are given to preparing to respond to a spill than to preventing spills, even though preventing a spill is considered preferable. Further, some believed that spill prevention would be enhanced if vessels with large, onboard bunker fuel storage also were subject to prevention requirements similar to OPA 90 requirements for vessels carrying petroleum as cargo.

Survey feedback indicated that better Area Contingency Plans (ACPs) could result in significant improvements in response preparedness. ACPs need to be improved in many geographic areas. ACPs should be more response-oriented and less like a reference document, and be made more readily available and useable. Many respondents viewed these items as the foundation for any major improvements in response planning.

In the United States, spill response using a multiparty management system, which is inclusive of broad stakeholder groups, differs from systems in other countries. Most felt that response activities can impact restoration activities greatly, but the legal structure does not support a seamless and efficient coordination of response and restoration. Coordination between response and restoration needs to be improved to avoid response delays and promote better/faster resource restoration.

The biggest concern expressed by survey respondents regarding restoration dealt with management of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process. Damage assessments and restoration management need to be streamlined, partly because too many interested parties make decision making inefficient. Some felt that public review of restoration plans led to better results; others felt public review delayed timely restoration activities.

While international cooperation has increased over the last decade, respondents felt there was room for further improvement. In particular, sharing personnel and resources better, joining inspection and control programs, and drafting international restoration guidelines were some of the improvement activities mentioned.

Findings from this survey have provided insights on what actions are needed to further improve spill prevention, preparedness, response, and restoration. Now is the time to renew this effort and improve performance to a higher plane globally. 2001 IOSC sponsors and Issue Paper Subcommittee desire the response community's commitment and solicit its involvement toward this goal.

This content is only available as a PDF.