Oil Pollution Act of 1990

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Oil Pollution Act of 1990
Great Seal of the United States
Other short titles
  • Oil Pollution Prevention, Response, Liability, and Compensation Act of 1989
  • Oil Pollution Prevention, Removal, Liability, and Compensation Act of 1989
  • Prince William Sound Oil Spill Removal Act of 1989
  • Oil Terminal Environmental Oversight and Monitoring Act of 1989
  • Oil Terminal and Oil Tanker Environmental Oversight and Monitoring Act of 1990
  • Outer Banks Protection Act
  • Trans-Alaska Pipeline System Reform Act of 1990
Long title An Act to establish limitations on liability for damages resulting from oil pollution, to establish a fund for the payment of compensation for such damages, and for other purposes.
Nicknames Oil Pollution Liability and Compensation Act of 1989
Enacted by the 101st United States Congress
Effective August 18, 1990
Public law 101-380
Statutes at Large 104 Stat. 484
Titles amended 33 U.S.C.: Navigable Waters
U.S.C. sections created 33 U.S.C. ch. 40 § 2701
Legislative history

The Oil Pollution Act (101 H.R.1465, P.L. 101-380)[1] was passed by the 101st United States Congress, and signed by President George H. W. Bush,[2] to mitigate and prevent civil liability from the future oil spills off the coast of the United States. It forms part of oil spill governance in the United States.

The law stated that companies must have a "plan to prevent spills that may occur" and have a "detailed containment and cleanup plan" for oil spills. The law also includes a clause that prohibits any vessel that, after March 22, 1989, has caused an oil spill of more than one million U.S. gallons (3,800 m³) in any marine area, from operating in Prince William Sound.[3]


Heavy sheens of oil as visible on the surface of the water in Prince William Sound following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alaska Governor Jay Hammond authorized the creation of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission in 1989 to examine the causes of the oil spill and issue recommendations on potential policy changes.[4] Hammond appointed Walter B. Parker, a longtime transportation consultant and public official, as the chairman of the commission.[4][5] Under Parker, the Commission issued 52 recommendations for improvements to industry, state and federal regulations.[4] The U.S. Congress would ultimately adopt 50 of the Alaska Oil Spill Commission's 52 recommendations into the Oil Pollution Act.[4]

The bill[6] was introduced to the House by Walter B. Jones, Sr., a Democratic Party congressman from North Carolina's 1st congressional district. Jones along with 79 cosponsors involved with the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, which at the time was the largest oil spill in U.S. history. It enjoyed widespread support, passing the House 375-5 and the Senate by voice vote before conference, and unanimously in both chambers after conference. The U.S. Constitution, as interpreted in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824), gives Congress the sole authority to regulate navigable waters.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was born due to the imperfections of the two previous acts, which were the Clean Water Act of 1977 (CWA) and the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). The FWPCA was enacted in 1972 as part of a reorganization of the Water Quality Improvement Act. The CWA, enacted in response to the grounding of the Argo Merchant off Nantucket, Massachusetts, in 1976. Together with the FWPCA, they formed the oil pollution containment, response, and liability framework that applied during the Exxon Valdez casualty.[7]

In April 1998, Exxon argued in a legal action against the federal government that the Exxon Valdez should be allowed back into Alaskan waters. Exxon claimed the OPA was effectively a bill of attainder, a regulation that was unfairly directed at Exxon alone.[8] In 2002, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Exxon. As of 2002, OPA had prohibited 18 ships from entering Prince William Sound.[9]

The act also banned single-hull tank vessels of 5,000 gross tons or more from U.S. waters from 2010 onward, apart from those with a double bottom or double sides, which may be permitted to trade to the United States through 2015, depending on their age.[10]

The double-hull tanker came into effect. The double-hull tanker has an inner hull, separated from the outer by approximately ten feet. Over the past decade, collisions and groundings have been responsible for approximately 70 percent of the oil spillage from tank vessels. In the case of a collision or grounding, double-hull tankers are four to six times less likely than single-hull tankers to spill oil. Average outflow is three to four times less with a double-hull compared to a single-hull tank vessel. If the current fleet predominantly comprising single-hull vessels were all replaced with double-hull vessels, it is projected that the double-hull requirements would eliminate four out of every five oil spills and realize a two-thirds reduction in the total volume of oil spills attributable to collisions and groundings.[11]


Following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, numerous U.S. Senators attempted to pass a bill to raise the $75 million cap limit to $10 billion, retroactive to before the spill occurred. Senators of both Republican Party and Democratic Party blocked efforts for new legislation on multiple occasions, arguing that the new law could have unintended consequences.[12] Democratic Party senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was quoted in saying “We want to be careful before we change any of these laws that we don’t jeopardize the operations of an ongoing industry, because there are 4,000 other wells in the Gulf that have to go on.”[12] This statute limits BP's monetary damages to $75 million for losses to private parties, although it still remains liable for all cleanup costs under the law.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Bill Summary & Status - 101st Congress (1989 - 1990) - H.R.1465 - THOMAS (Library of Congress)". Thomas.loc.gov. Retrieved 2012-08-27. 
  2. ^ Peters, Gerhard; Woolley, John T. "George Bush: "Statement on Signing the Oil Pollution Act of 1990," August 18, 1990". The American Presidency Project. University of California - Santa Barbara. Retrieved 19 October 2013. 
  3. ^ "Oil Pollution Act of 1990 - Summary". Federal Wildlife and Related Laws Handbook. 1990-08-18. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  4. ^ a b c d "After a long life of service, Walt Parker passes away at 87". Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council. 2014-06-26. Retrieved 2014-11-23. 
  5. ^ Dunham, Mike (2014-06-26). "Longtime Alaska resources and transportation adviser Walter Parker dead at 87". Alaska Dispatch News. Retrieved 2014-11-16. 
  6. ^ http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d101:HR01465:
  7. ^ Sump, David H (2011). "The Oil Pollution Act of 1990: A Glance in the Rearview Mirror". Tulane Law Review. 85 (4): 1101–1119. 
  8. ^ Carrigan, Alison. "The bill of attainder clause: a new weapon to challenge the Oil Pollution Act of 1990". Boston College Environmental Affairs Law Review (Fall 2000). Archived from the original on April 29, 2005. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  9. ^ "Exxon Valdez Is Barred From Alaska Sound". The New York Times. 2002-11-02. Retrieved 2008-03-10. 
  10. ^ National Research Council (1998). DOUBLE-HULL TANKER LEGISLATION AN ASSESSMENT OF THE OIL POLLUTION ACT OF 1990. Washington, D.C.: NATIONAL ACADEMY PRESS. Retrieved 2012-062-22.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  11. ^ Inho, Kim. 2007. "Milking" Oil Tankers: The Paradoxical Effect of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990." Natural Resources Journal 47, no. 4: 849-866. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed February 19, 2014).
  12. ^ a b Lerer, Lisa (14 May 2010). "Effort to Raise Oil-Spill Liability Fails in Senate". Bloomberg. 
  13. ^ Goldman, Julianna (2010-05-04). "White House Backs Higher Damage Cap After BP Spill". Bloomberg. Retrieved 2010-05-05. 

External links[edit]