Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90)

The 1989 grounding of the oil tanker Exxon Valdez brought national focus on the issue of oil transportation safety. Recognizing the need for timely legislative action, Congress responded promptly by combining previously proposed regulation with lessons learned from the disaster. The resulting legislation, which was unanimously passed through Congress, became known as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90).

The guidelines introduced under OPA 90 were embraced by the Coast Guard and implemented into programs that dramatically improved oil transportation safety in particular and overall marine safety in general.

Prevention -

  • Double Hull Requirement for Tank Vessels -Tank vessels must meet or exceed double hull specifications by the year 2015. Vessels are being refit to comply, changed to transport non-petroleum products such as grain, or scrapped.
  • Access to national records – Permits the Coast Guard to review national driver registration and criminal records prior to issuing or renewing a merchant mariner’s license or document.
  • Civil and Criminal Penalty Provisions – Permits the Coast Guard to take appropriate punitive legal action against polluters.

Preparedness -

  • Area Committees and Contingency Plans Requires formation of response plans tailored specifically to areas that could be effected by oil spills and hazardous substance releases.
  • Vessel and Facility Response Plans - Operators of oil facilities and transport vessels are required to establish detailed response plans in conjunction with federal and local response strategies.

Liability and Compensation -

  • National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) Responsible for managing the billion dollar oil spill liability trust fund, which is used to fund spill responses, compensate claimants, fund environmental assessments and recover costs from responsible parties.
  • Financial Responsibility for Pollution –
    Vessel owners or operators must establish and maintain evidence of adequate insurance.

Response -

  • Response Management System - Establishes guidelines for creating a unified command system that can coordinate multiple federal, state and local responders. The management system also requires on-scene coordinators (OSCs) to direct response efforts and coordinate all action at the scene of a response. There are 47 specially trained OSC’s residing in strategic ports around the country.
  • National Strike Force - A team of highly trained, experienced personnel and specialized equipment which are strategically placed along each coast for the specific purpose of responding to major spills or releases. The national strike teams have responded to almost 600 incidents worldwide since 1991.

Since the implementation of OPA 90 -

  • The average number of oil spills over 10,000 gallons has dropped by approximately 50 percent from pre-1991 levels.
  • The gallons spilled per million gallons of oil shipped has been reduced from an annual average of 10 gallons spilled per million shipped for the years 1987 to 1990 to 5 gallons spilled per million shipped during the years 1991 to 1997 – a 50 percent decrease.
  • There have been no spills over one million gallons in the United States since 1990.
  • The total volume of tank-ship oil spills in the U.S. peaked in 1989 and has remained below 200,000 gallons since 1991.

The Thirteenth Coast Guard District Public Affairs Office (dep) created this page on January 4, 2000 and last modified it June 26, 2002. This page may be reproduced locally. If any changes are needed please notify D13 (dep) at 206.220.7237. More Coast Guard information can be accessed at http://www.uscg.mil and a complete listing of these fact sheets can be found at http://www.uscg.mil/d13.