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Reporting Exemptions for Oil Spills

Properly Functioning Vessel Engines

Discharges of oil from a properly functioning vessel engine are not deemed to be harmful and, therefore, do not need to be reported under the Discharge of Oil Regulation. However, oil accumulated in a vessel's bilge is not exempt.

Research and Development Releases

The EPA Administrator may permit the discharge of oil on a case-by-case basis in connection with research, demonstration projects, or studies relating to the prevention, control, or abatement of oil pollution. However, the Discharge of Oil Regulation specifically forbids the use of dispersants or emulsifiers to circumvent the discharge regulations.

NPDES-Permitted Releases

Three types of discharges subject to the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System are exempt from oil spill reporting:

Discharges Permitted Under MARPOL

Certain discharges beyond the territorial seas (i.e, defined as extending three miles seaward from the coast) are allowed if they are permitted under international law. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), as amended, prohibits the discharge of oily mixtures (defined as mixtures with any oil content) from a tanker except when all of the following conditions are met: the tanker is proceeding en route; the tanker is more than 50 miles from the nearest land; the instantaneous rate of discharge does not exceed 60 liters per mile; and the total quantity of oil discharged in any ballast voyage does not exceed 1/15,000 of the total cargo carrying capacity. In addition, MARPOL allows discharges in quantities verified by a monitoring system to be less than or equal to 15 ppm, regardless of whether the discharge causes a sheen. Therefore, discharges permitted under MARPOL into waters seaward of the territorial sea are exempt from U.S. oil spill notification requirements; such discharges may include the operational discharge of limited quantities of oil-water mixtures from ships.

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