Establishing an SPCC plan for a farm and maintaining regulatory compliance


Under the Clean Water Act, farmers are required to maintain procedures, methods and equipment to prevent discharges of oil and contain any spills that occur.

The specific requirements applicable to U.S. farmers are spelled out in the final version of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) Rule, which was put in place on November 11, 2011.

Determining whether a farm is covered

For the purposes of SPCC compliance, the EPA defines a farm as “a facility on a tract of land devoted to the production of crops or raising of animals, including fish, which produced and sold, or normally would have produced and sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during a year.”

While there was a grandfathering system that allowed facilities in operation prior the adoption of the final rule to maintain their existing plans and make necessary amendments, farms that began operating after November 10, 2011 are required to prepare and implement a compliant SPCC plan before beginning operations.

The SPCC Rule applies to farms that:

  • Store, transfer, use or consume oil or oil products, including gasoline, diesel fuel, lube and hydraulic oil, vegetable oil or animal fat and
  • Stores more than 1,320 gallons of oil in aboveground storage tanks (AST) or more than 42,000 gallons in underground storage tanks (UST)* and
  • Could “reasonably be expected” to discharge oil into waters of the United States or adjacent shorelines, including lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands and mud flats that are used for commerce or recreation.

*—Oil storage containers must be completely buried to qualify for the higher limited allowed for USTs.

All containers that have a storage capacity of less than 55 gallons are exempt from the SPCC Rule, which means that they should not be counted toward the facility-level thresholds that cause farms to become subject to the EPA’s SPCC requirements. Permanently closed containers are also exempt.

Containers at separate facilities, even if they are located on adjacent parcels of land that are owned or leased by a farmer, should also not be added when calculating a site’s total storage capacity.

Meeting certification requirements

Many farms covered by the SPCC Rule are required to have their plans certified by a professional engineer, including all facilities that have a total oil storage capacity of more than 10,000 gallons.

Farmers may prepare and self-certify their own SPCC plans if their facility’s total oil storage capacity is between 1,320 and 10,000 gallons and they have a “good spill history” as described in the EPA’s SPCC Rule, which means they have not allowed any discharges of 1,000 gallons or more in the previous three years, or two discharges of 42 gallons or more in a 12-month period during the previous three years.

Farmers who are eligible for self-certification and do not have any ASTs with the capacity to hold more than 5,000 gallons of oil are allowed to use the SPCC plan template available on the EPA’s website.

Preparing and implementing an SPCC plan

To prepare a compliant SPCC plan for a farm, the following pieces of information are required:

  • A list of all on-site oil storage containers specifying the location and contents of each unit
  • A basic summary of the procedures used to prevent oil spills, the countermeasures installed to prevent spilled oil from reaching water and the actions that would be taken to contain and clean up oil discharged into water
  • A list of emergency contacts, including first responders.

The spill prevention measures that must be implemented as part of an SPCC plan include:

  • Using containers that are designed or suitable for holding the specific oil products being stored
  • Identifying local agencies or environmental companies that can aid in the cleanup of a spill
  • Deploying an alarm, audible vent or filling procedure to prevent overfilling of storage containers
  • Creating an appropriately sized* secondary containment system, such as an earthen or concrete dike, around bulk storage containers
  • Providing containment measures, such as sorbent materials or drip pans, to address potential discharges in areas where oil is transferred between containers.
  • Conducting periodic inspections to ensure the integrity of pipes and containers.**

*—Secondary containment systems must be large enough to accommodate the primary container’s full capacity, in addition to possible rainfall.
**—Keeping a written record of these assessments is recommended. Visual inspections of aboveground tanks and pipes should follow pertinent industry standards. Underground pipes must undergo a “leak test” after being installed or repaired.

Maintaining compliance with EPA regulations

Farmers must update their SPCC plans any time they make pertinent changes to their facilities, such as adding new storage containers with a capacity of at least 55 gallons, or acquiring parcels of land that hold such containers. Farmers are also required to review their plans at least once every five years to certify that no changes are required.

Some farmers may be best served by partnering with independent experts during the design, implementation or maintenance of an SPCC plan. In addition to providing input on which containment measures may be the most effective in specific situations and aiding in the setup process, environmental consultants can help farmers develop and execute a rigorous assessment program to ensure that they are not blindsided by unnoticed compliance failures.

For more information visit or contact Rick Plummer at 318-323-7270