Understanding the Oil Pollution Act

oil in marshOil spills can cause significant damage to the environment and natural resources. That is one of the reasons the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) was created.

The OPA was meant to improve the federal government's ability to prevent and respond to these disasters. The law also establishes how parties responsible for oil spills will be held accountable, including paying for damages caused by the disaster.

Louisiana and Texas are home to some of the largest oil excavation sites, putting both states at high risk of suffering environmental damage from an oil spill. The environmental damage lawyers at Simien & Simien are committed to helping you and your loved ones recover after having property damaged by an oil spill caused by another party's careless actions. Contact our firm to learn more about your legal options.

Facts about the Oil Pollution Act

The Oil Pollution Act was signed into law in 1990, mostly in response to public concern around the Exxon Valdez oil spill. This incident resulted in 11 million gallons of oil being spilled into Prince William Sound in Alaska.

The OPA amended the Clean Water Act to help prevent, respond to and pay for oil pollution incidents by:

  • Establishing higher liability limits for oil spills
  • Increasing federal oversight of oil transportation and spills
  • Establishing new requirements for the construction of vessels
  • Enhancing the ability of federal response teams
  • Establishing harsher penalties and rules regarding liability
  • Requiring contingency planning

Who Is Liable for an Oil Spill?

The OPA states that the party responsible for a vessel or facility that discharges oil can be held liable for the effects of the oil spill. This includes paying for damage to the environment and the cost of removing the oil.

There are some cases when the polluter reaches the liability limit set by the OPA. When this happens, the rest of the costs of responding to the spill are covered by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is funded by oil taxes. This fund is also used in cases where the oil spill was an unforeseen accident, so the entity transporting the oil is not responsible for damages from the spill.

Financial Penalties for Oil Spills

The penalties that can be assessed vary by the size of the vessel and the circumstances surrounding the spill:

  • Tank vessels that weigh 3,000 gross tons or more must pay $1,200 per gross ton of oil spilled, or $10 million, whichever is greater
  • Onshore facilities and deepwater ports have a maximum liability limit of $350 million per spill
  • Entities holding leases or permits for offshore facilities are liable for removal costs and up to $75 million in damages per spill
  • Individuals who fail to notify the appropriate federal agency of a spill can be fined between $10,000 and $250,000
  • Organizations that fail to notify can be fined between $10,000 and $500,000
  • Individuals or entities refusing to comply with a federal oil removal order can be fined up to $25,000 per day

The OPA allows states to impose additional liability, fines, penalties and requirements for removal on parties responsible for oil spills.  

Limits to Oil Spill Liability

The OPA describes certain situations when entities cannot be held liable for an oil spill, such as when:

  • Discharges were made because they were authorized by a permit under local, state or federal law
  • Discharges were made by a public vessel
  • Discharges were made from onshore facilities that are otherwise included in liability provisions of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act

Additionally, if the responsible party can show that removal costs and damages were caused by a third party, liability can be transferred to this third party.

Do You Need Help with Your Environmental Damage Claim?

If you have been affected by an oil spill or other environmental disaster caused by a negligent business or individual, contact our skilled team of environmental lawyers. Environmental claims can be complex and may take years before being resolved.

We can discuss your possible legal options for recovery and expediting your damage claim during a free consultation. You are under no obligation to pursue a claim. However, if you do decide to move forward with your claim, we will work diligently on your behalf. You will only owe us for our efforts if we help you successfully recover compensation for your claim.

Complete a Free Case Evaluation form right now. 

If you are looking for a law firm that has knowledge and experience, you will find it with Simien & Simien, LLC.

Free Case Evaluation