37 Ocean & Coastal L. Memo 1 (1991)

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Ocean and Coasral




                Law Memo


Issue 37 February 1991


Recent Developments in Ocean and Coastal Law, 1990


I.  Federal  Legislation

A.  Oil Spill Liability Act of 1990

    On August 18, 1990, President
Bush signed the Oil Pollution Act
of 1990 into law. After approxi-
mately 15 years in the making, the
United States now has compre-
hensive legislation covering oil
spills. Pressure from environ-
mentalists, fueled by the disas-
trous 11 million gallon spill from
the Exxon Valdez in Alaska's
pristine ecosystem, obviously
hastened this new legislation.

    Before this legislation was
enacted, the Clean Water Act
(CWA)  provided some coverage,
albeit small, for oil pollution.
Under  the CWA, liability was
limited to a vessel owner or
operator up to the greater of $125
per gross weight ton or $125,000
for inland oil barges; up to $150
per gross weight ton or $150,000
for tanker vessels; and $150 per
gross weight ton for all other
vessels. This liability applied only
to cleanup costs which included
restoration of natural resources.


    The Oil Pollutionf Act of 1990
increases the upper limit of a
spiller's liability to $10,000,000 or
$1,200 per gross weight ton,
whichever is greater, for a vessel
greater than 3,000 gross tons. For
vessels of 3,000 gross tons or less,
the limit on liability is $2,000,000.
The Act also provides for a
$75,000,000 liability cap plus the
total of all removal costs for an
offshore facility except a deep-
water port and a $350,000,000 cap
for any onshore facility and a
deepwater port. Lastly, any other
vessel has a limitation of liability
of $600 per gross ton or $500,000,
whichever is greater.

   The  Act also imposes penal-
ties of up to three years incarcera-
tion and fines up to $250,000 for
an individual or $500,000 for an
organization who fails to report a
spill. Civil penalties are raised to
$25,000 a day, or $1,000 per bar-
rel of oil for a violation. The
minimum  penalty is $100,000 for
cases of gross negligence, but no
more than $3,000 per barrel of
oil.


    One major point of contro-
versy in the Congress was whether
double hulls should be required
on oil tankers. Proponents
argued that double hulls will
prevent major spill disasters in
the future. Strong support for
their assertion was a Coast Guard
study of 30 tanker groundings that
occurred between 1969 and 1973.
The study concluded that 96 per-
cent of the spills caused by those
groundings would have been pre-
vented if the tankers were
equipped with double hulls. The
opponents of double hulls argued
that water can rush in between a
ruptured hull and the inner hull
thereby causing the vessel to
settle lower and exaggerate the
leak. They also argued that
explosive vapors could possibly
collect between the hulls and
create a bigger catastrophe than
with a single hull.

    The proponents won out in
the end as the Act requires
double hull tankers by the year
2010 for all tankers entering
United States ports. The Act
does allow an amortization period


Distributed by: Oregon State University Extension * Sea Grant Program     Corvallis OR

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