Lubricant Usage Standards in the 2013 Vessel General Permit

By Ben Bryant
Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Environmentally acceptable lubricants required in Oil-to-Sea interfaces where technically feasible.

With the recent release of the 2013 Vessel General Permit (VGP), vessel owner/operators must review their operational practices for incidental discharge of lubricants to the marine environment. Lubricant discharge limits from oil-to-sea interfaces are just one of 27 specific discharge categories covered by the VGP for vessels to achieve compliance with the US Clean Water Act (CWA). For applications with an oil-to-sea interface, environmentally acceptable lubricants will now be required unless technically infeasible.

Overview of the 2013 Vessel General Permit
The EPA issued the 2013 VGP under the authority granted to it by Section 402 of the CWA known as the national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES). When the CWA was first implemented, the EPA excluded discharges incidental to the normal operation of vessels from NPDES requirements. However, in a September 2006 court decision, the EPA was ordered to stop the vessel exemption, and in December of 2008, the EPA issued the first version of the VGP. 
The 2013 VGP is presented in six parts plus appendices and tables. Part 1 describes the permit coverage. Part 2 establishes the effluent limits for the 27 specific discharge categories. Part 3 provides detail on corrective action requirements. Part 4 lays out the inspection, monitoring, reporting, and record keeping requirements. Part 5 established additional effluent requirements for specific vessel classes. Part 6 lists additional requirements for individual states or Indian country lands. Lastly, the appendices and tables provide definitions, forms, schedules, and additional technical data.
Vessel coverage can be obtained by either submitting a notice of intent to the EPA or, for vessels under 300 gross tons and minimal or no ballast water capacity, by maintaining required records onboard. Recreational vessels and military vessels are excluded from coverage and are regulated separately. Additionally, vessels under 79 feet may be covered by the 2013 VGP, however the EPA plans to release a different permitting program for these vessels which will likely have fewer reporting, inspection and record keeping requirements. Small vessel fleets, unmanned barge fleets and tug/barge combinations have the ability to combine reporting and record keeping for purposes of the VGP.

Allowable limits for discharges of lubricants
Section 2.2.9 of the VGP details the requirements for lubricant usage for oil to sea interfaces including wire rope and other mechanical equipment subject to immersion. A list of example applications is provided and in general applies to any thru hull fitting or propulsion system with an oil water separation seal, wire rope, and equipment that is immersed in water during normal operations. The section includes statements indicating that seals must be maintained in good operating order and vessel owner/operators must not discharge oil in quantities that would be harmful to the environment. Also described are three “best practice” requirements:

  1. Minimize maintenance on oil to sea interfaces outside of drydock.
  2. Have pollution response equipment on hand if maintenance is done while vessel in the water.
  3. If safe to do so - wipe excess lubricant off of wire rope and other equipment. 


A requirement of the 2013 VGP is that environmentally acceptable lubricants (EAL) be used in all oil-to-sea applications unless technical infeasible. Technically infeasible is defined as “no EAL products are approved for use in a given application that meet manufacturers specifications for that equipment, products which come pre-lubricated (e.g., wire ropes) have no available alternatives manufactured with EALs, products meeting a manufacturer’s specifications are not available within any port in which the vessel calls, or change over and use of an EAL must wait until the vessel’s next drydocking.” To determine which applications are approved for EALs, vessel owner/operators should consult with their equipment manufacturers and lubricant suppliers. Seal compatibility with EALs should be verified and if needed, compatible seals should be installed at the next vessel drydocking. For new build vessels, the EPA recommends the use of water lubricated stern tubes as a means of reducing the quantity of lubricating oil entering the environment.
In Appendix A of the VGP, EALs are defined and specific standards are set for biodegradable, minimally-toxic, and non-bioaccumulative lubricants. Also included is a list of six labeling programs that lubricant manufacturers can pursue to certify the lubricant meets the EPA standards. If a lubricant is promoted as meeting the requirements of the EPA but does not have one of these labels, the owner/operator should request from the lubricant supplier copies of the test results indicating the lubricant meets the EAL environmental standards. If EALs are not used in an oil-to-sea application, vessel owner/operators are required in section 4.2.9(j) to document the reason that it is technically infeasible to do so. This information must be communicated to the EPA in an annual report.
Additional information on EALs is found in Section 2.2.1 of the 2013 VGP.  This section details the best practices for minimizing discharges from deck washdown and runoff and above water line hull cleaning.  The best practices for minimizing pollution from deck run off include use of drip pans, scupper plugs, and the requirement for biodegradable cleaners.  In reference to lubrication, the EPA states “to reduce the risk of any leakage or spills of harmful oils into the aquatic environment, EPA strongly encourages the use of environmentally acceptable lubricants in all above deck equipment.” For on deck equipment, the vessel owner/operator should investigate the availability of EALs that meet performance requirements for the specific equipment and then transition to the use of EALs as appropriate.

Deadline Looming
The 2013 VGP becomes effective on December 19, 2013. Vessels authorized to discharge according to the permit and operated in accordance with the permit’s requirements will be in compliance with the CWA.  Vessels not authorized by the permit to discharge may be subject to civil and criminal enforcement and to citizen suits against violators unless they are covered by alternative regulations. Discharges of lubricants and oils must not exceed quantities deemed to be harmful.  The use of EALs is required in all oil-to-sea interfaces unless technically infeasible while the use of EALS is recommended for all above deck applications. The 2013 VGP is in effect for five years.


(As published in the August 2013 edition of Marine News - www.marinelink.com)

 

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