Costs and Risks of Accidental Oil Spills and Leaks

Storing or transporting large volumes of oil always creates a risk of a spill. While the crude oil extraction and refinement industries have minimized spills to the single digits per year, hydraulic fracturing companies still experience spills on 15% or more of job sites each year. Each oil spill, even if it’s relatively small, can cost a company thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you keep repeating spills or experience escalating losses of oil, you’ll find the fines growing steeper with each passing problem. Understand the true potential costs of oil spills and leaks to truly weigh how much of an investment containment is worth.

State and Federal Agency Fines

The largest costs associated with oil spills and releases tend to be the fines from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and state agencies. Small spills that occur in loading and transfer stations tend to generate costs of just a few thousand dollars, especially if the facility had some amount of containment practices in place. Companies that weren’t directly profiting from the oil but rather using it as a product, such as logging firms, often see smaller fines as well. On the other end of the spectrum, large spills of millions of gallons of oil from previous offenders like BP have generated fines costing millions of dollars. These fines can be increased for secondary considerations like cost-cutting efforts leading to increased leak risks and attempts to cover up the damage. Reporting yourself and taking immediate efforts to minimize the leak can also result in lower fines from both federal and state agencies.

Remediation Costs

Costs for dealing with spills and leaks, especially habitual ones that repeat over time, include more than just penalties and fines. Remediation costs to repair damage to exposed soil and water will also make a dent in your company’s bottom line. This is a major problem for companies that only handle oil for shipping purposes or airports that need it for plane maintenance and refueling. Soil remediation can often cost more than restoration for damaged waterways since it’s hard to remove oil and other petrochemicals that have bonded with the soil particles. If there’s an extensive oil or fuel spill, the best option may be to dig up the contaminated soil and bury it somewhere else surrounded by an impermeable liner.

Improvement and Monitoring Expenses

It’s not enough to simply address past spills and leaks and move forward with the same old oil handling practices. The EPA and state natural resource agencies will want to see plans for improving oil containment plans so that future spills are controlled and prevented. You’ll find these designs have plenty of costs to engineer and implement, especially in crowded existing facilities with little free space for adding berms and liners. Monitoring costs from third-party providers also adds up over the years, especially when weekly or monthly visits are mandated shortly after a large-scale spill.

Long-Term Environmental Effects

Since the effects of an oil spill on the environment can last for decades, you may end up facing long-term costs that return years after the initial incident. Re-evaluations of the initial spill can always occur from both the EPA and state agencies as testing methods advance and improve. This may increase the amount you’re spending on remediation and compensation, or it may unexpectedly decrease your costs if contamination is evaluated downward. Preventing releases of oil into the water and soil around your holding and loading facility is far more affordable than trying to cover the costs of its long-term effects.

Human and Animal Exposure

Today’s new oil facilities are being built far closer to homes, businesses, and farms than the remote derricks and refineries of the past. This increases the risks of direct exposure to humans and animals anytime there is a spill. Workers at oil facilities are always at risk for exposure since even a few drips can become a skin or eye irritant if there’s direct contact. Wild animals and livestock alike can wander into areas where crude oil and byproducts are being stored and become ill or fall into the liquid. Proper oil containment includes measures to protect living creatures from direct exposure at all levels.

Air Pollution

Oil refineries pose a risk for producing more than just soil and water pollution risks. Processing facilities, in particular, tend to create air pollution as oil is refined into various fuels and finished products. Covering open pits, ponds, and tanks is a necessary of a part of controlling air pollution. It is as important as installing scrubbers on combustion chimneys.

Protecting the environment from the consequences of oil spills will also protect your company’s bottom line from inflating fines and fees. Since you may not notice signs of ongoing leaks for years, it’s best to start with extensive oil containment from the beginning rather than trying to add it on later. New oil refinery and extraction facilities aren’t likely to pass today’s inspections for operation without flexible liners and other containment measures. Find the materials you need to complete your containment designs here at BTL Liners.


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