In April 2016, the EPA released its most recent revision to the Preparedness for Response Exercise Program (PREP). The updated guidelines go into effect June 2016 and incorporate various lessons learned and industry input.
PREP was initially developed to establish an economically feasible exercise program to meet the intent of section 4202(a) of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). Completion of the exercises described in the new guidelines is one option for maintaining compliance with OPA 90 response exercise requirements.
Exercise programs provide a mechanism to test participants’ knowledge and understanding of how to mobilize an appropriate response, execute communications and decision-making processes, and effectively manage a worst-case spill response. Effectively planned and executed exercises typically result in improved communication and multi-agency response capabilities in the event of an actual spill.
In order to satisfy PREP guidelines, all of the core components must be exercised once every three years, at a minimum. Today, a unified effort comprised of the following agencies make up the PREP Compliance, Coordination, and Consistency Committee (PREP 4C):
- U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
- Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
- Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)
According to the April 5, 2016 Marine Safety Information Bulletin, “This revision modernizes the NPREP Guidelines to better align policy with the existing regulations and improve interagency consistency.” The revisions, which are the first in over a decade, align certain PREP terminology with the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP), expand spill countermeasure topics, and incorporate salvage, marine firefighting, non-tank vessel exercise requirements.
PREP Terminology: The guidelines stipulate that new terminology does not imply new or different requirements than what is contained in regulations. These new terms should be viewed and treated as “synonyms” that have been adopted to ensure that the PREP program is consistent and easily compared to nationwide exercise terminology used in most other current programs. Updated terminology includes, but is not limited to:
- Spill Management Team: Replaced by the term “Incident Management Team (IMT)
- Containment: Wherever the word containment is used in the context of containing oil under the water's surface, the word “subsea” will precede the word “containment”. Where the word “containment” is used by itself, it is presumed to be associated with efforts to contain oil on the water's surface.
- Oil Spill Removal Organization (OSRO): The definition of an OSRO has been updated to include, and better describe, a broader range of response resources and services, including source control, all spill countermeasures, and supporting services that an OSRO may provide in order to adequately contain, secure, recover, or mitigate a discharge of oil.
Spill Countermeasure topics: The following updates were incorporated into the new exercise guidelines:
- The “Recovery” Core Component in Appendix A was retitled “Mitigation,” and the supporting language was broadened to clarify that mitigation may include the use of various spill countermeasures, including, but not limited to, dispersants, in-situ burning, and bioremediation, in addition to mechanical oil recovery.
- Plan holders will only be required to exercise Subsea Dispersant Injection (SSDI) equipment upon receiving direction from the Chief of Oil Spill Preparedness Division, or the Chief's designated representative. However, plan holders should carefully describe how SSDI capabilities will be used in their OSRPs.
Salvage, Marine Fire Fighting, Non‐tank Vessel Exercise Requirements: Requirement updates include:
- Credit for equipment deployment exercises for salvage and marine firefighting services may be claimed for real world operations, when documented as outlined in Chapter 3 of the guidelines. This also applies to traditional oil spill recovery and storage equipment.
- The committee determined that the best way to provide clarity on the issue of Dispersant-Related Objectives during PREP Exercises was to broaden the definition of OSRO to include all providers that offer any and all spill response resources designed to contain and secure a discharge, and recover or mitigate the impacts of the spilled oil through various countermeasures and supporting services, including mechanical recovery, in-situ burning, dispersants, bioremediation, salvage, source control, and other response services directly supporting the incident such as aerial surveillance and remote sensing.
- A vessel that has successfully completed a Government-Initiated Unannounced Exercise (GIUE) will not be required to participate in another GIUE in any COTP zone for 36 months. Other vessels under that same plan will not be required to complete another GIUE in that same COTP zone for 36 months. Other vessels in the same plan may be subject to a GIUE in another COTP zone at any time.
- The frequency of remote assessment and consultation exercises is significantly reduced, from quarterly to annually per vessel when the vessel operates in U.S. waters. The economic burden of this exercise on vessel stakeholders is correspondingly reduced. Annual per vessel credit is appropriate for remote assessment and consultation exercises to ensure that each vessel in the fleet would have the opportunity to simulate initiation of a remote assessment and consultation assessment each year.
A full list of updated 2016 PREP Guidelines can be found on the Federal Register Website.