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Federal Oil Pollution Law and Regulatory Developments

August 1993

Citation: 23 ELR 10491

Issue: 8

Author: Guy E. Wall

Editors' Summary: Whether Congress intended it or not, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) has shaken the entire oil exploration and production industry to its core. Precipitated by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Act represents Congress' decision to create a regulatory framework for preventing oil spills and for responding to actual or threatened discharges of oil into U.S. waters, and to change the historical limits on civil and criminal liability to a degree that will almost certainly cause some industry participants to discontinue doing business in the offshore area. The author provides a succinct review of the changes the OPA has brought about that affect the oil exploration and production industry. First the author explores the laws and regulations that control oil spills, including the 1899 Rivers and Harbors Appropriations Act and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, in light of the changes required by the OPA. The author analyzes the statutory penalty structure that currently exists, which was changed dramatically by the OPA. The author next describes the regulatory structure that controls the prevention of oil spills and the provisions of the OPA that establish contingency planning and federal and private response actions. After addressing the issues of financial responsibility and notification requirements, he discusses the liability and claims procedures for oil spills, including the controversial new liability limits imposed under the OPA.

Mr. Wall is engaged in the practice of environmental law at Gordon, Arata, McCollam & Duplantis in New Orleans, Louisiana.

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