Area Contingency Planning

The impacts of an oil spill can vary widely, from isolated incidents that are contained on-site to incidents that have a local, regional, national, or international impact. Contingency plans are developed to address the specific geographic scope of the incident. Such plans enable responders to address incidents by helping to identify and coordinate the activities of the different government agencies and private organizations involved in the response.

Facility Response Planning

In the event of an oil spill, the Facility Response Plan (FRP) is immediately activated. Local, area, or regional plans may also be put into motion, depending on the nature of the spill.

EPA has established regulations that define who must prepare Facility Response Plans and what must be included in their plans. In some cases, EPA's involvement also includes the review and approval of the facility plans. According to the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) passed by Congress in 1990, certain facilities that store and use oil are required to prepare plans to respond to a worst-case discharge of oil.

OPA also sets specific requirements for the development of such plans. In response, EPA developed regulations in 1994 that implement the facility response planning requirements of OPA. These regulations provide flexibility so that facility owners and operators are not required to create a new response plan if they have an existing plan.

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Area Contingency Planning

An Area Contingency Plan (ACP) is a reference document prepared for the use of all agencies engaged in responding to environmental emergencies within a defined geographic area. An ACP may also contain Sub-Area and Geographic Response Plans, which may have more limited scope than the ACP itself. An ACP is a mechanism to ensure that all responders have access to essential area-specific information and promotes inter-agency of coordination to improve the effectiveness of responses.

The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is designated the lead agency for planning and response in coastal zones and certain major inland water bodies. The EPA is the designated the lead for inland zones.

Under the Clean Water Act (CWA) 311(j)(4), an ACP is to include: 

  1. A description of the area covered by the plan, including areas of special economic or environmental importance that might be damaged by a discharge.
  2. A description of the responsibilities of owners, operators and federal, state and local agencies in removing a discharge.  Also to be included, descriptions on how to mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of discharge to ensure optimum communication and coordination during a response;
  3. A list of resources (personnel, equipment and supplies) available for response to discharges;
  4. A list of local scientists, both inside and outside federal government service, with expertise in the environmental effects of spills of the types of oil typically transported in the area. This list may be used to provide information or participate in meetings of the scientific support team. It may also be used to describe the procedures to be followed for obtaining an expedited decision regarding the use of dispersants; and
  5. A description of how the plan is integrated with other plans.

When implemented in conjunction with the NCP, the ACP must be adequate to remove a worst case discharge and mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of such discharge. Additionally, ACPs may provide guidelines for conducting specific tasks such as:

  • sampling,
  • classifying,
  • segregation, and
  • temporary staging of recovered waste. 

Other specific tasks listed should include identifying prior state disposal approval, various waste disposal options and a hierarchy of preferences for disposal alternatives (40 CFR 300.310(c)).

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Federal Regional Contingency Plans The following links exit the site Exit

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Area Contingency Planning Handbook

This Handbook is a guide and reference for the development of ACPs. While it is primarily intended for use by EPA emergency response program personnel, the use of this handbook to inform other agencies of EPA’s planning process is encouraged.

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National Contingency Planning

For spills that require a national response, the National Contingency Plan (NCP) is activated, bringing the collective expertise and capabilities of the 16 federal agencies together to contain and clean up the release or spill. The NCP differs somewhat from the other types of contingency plans in that it provides the framework for our National Response System, and the way in which the different levels of responding organizations coordinate their efforts.

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U.S.-Mexico and Canada Border Area Contingency Planning