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Spill Response & Remediation FAQ

1. What is a "discharge"?

Article 12 of the Navigation Law, the legislation which applies to Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Compensation, defines a discharge as:

any intentional or unintentional action or omission resulting in the releasing, spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying or dumping of petroleum into the waters of the state or onto lands from which it might flow or drain into said waters, or into waters outside the jurisdiction of the state when damage may result to the lands, waters or natural resources within the jurisdiction of the state;

The terms "release", "spill" and "leak" are commonly used in an interchangeable manner on this website, DEC documents, and by program staff to refer to discharges.

2. What does "remediation" mean?

Remediation is the act or process of removing contamination from the soil, groundwater, or other medium. The term "cleanup" is commonly used in referring to remediations. Cleanup typically is used a in broader context and may refer to activities such as using speedi-dry to recover oil from a roadway, or sorbent pads to collect oil from the water's surface.

3. What petroleum spills need to be reported?

All petroleum spills that occur within New York State (NYS) must be reported to the NYS Spill Hotline (1-800-457-7362) within 2 hours of discovery, except spills which meet all of the following criteria:

  1. The quantity is known to be less than 5 gallons; and
  2. The spill is contained and under the control of the spiller; and
  3. The spill has not and will not reach the State's water or any land; and
  4. The spill is cleaned up within 2 hours of discovery.

A spill is considered to have not impacted land if it occurs on a paved surface such as asphalt or concrete. A spill in a dirt or gravel parking lot is considered to have impacted land and is reportable.

More details on notification and reporting requirements can be found in the Spill Guidance Manual Section 1.1 - PDF 87 KB (34 pgs.)

4. Who must report a release?

There are many laws and regulations in New York State that require releases of petroleum, chemicals and materials which may cause environmental damage to be reported. In all cases, the responsible party or the property owner is required to report the discovery of a release. Many of the laws and regulations also place burden on consultants, contractors, or any one with knowledge.

Due to the complexity of the regulations and situations which multiple laws and regulations can apply, the Department of Environmental Conversation (DEC) recommends that anyone with knowledge, report the discovery of any contamination or a release to the NYS Spill Hotline (1-800-457-7362) as soon as possible.

More details on notification and reporting requirements can be found in the Spill Guidance Manual Section 1.1 - PDF 153 KB (34 pgs.)

The Office of the Attorney General has information on their webpage regarding reporting and liability as well as information on petroleum releases in general.

5. What other reporting requirements are there?

In addition to requirements for reporting petroleum releases to the NYS Spill Hotline (800-457-7362) covered in Article 12 of NYS Navigation Law and the Petroleum Bulk Storage Regulations (6 NYCRR Part 613.8), there are several requirements for reporting releases of hazardous materials and substances likely to pollute the environment. These are covered by the Chemical Bulk Storage Regulations (6 NYCRR Part 595, 596, 597), Article 17 of the Environmental Conservation Law, as well the Federal Clean Water Act and many parts of the Code of Federal Regulations. In general Federal level notification can be made through the National Response Center (NRC) at 1-800-424-8802.

Most hazardous material releases also require notification to the local emergency response system (fire, police, EMS)

More details on notification and reporting requirements can be found in the Spill Guidance Manual Section 1.1 - PDF 153 KB (34 pgs.)

6. What is the definition of Petroleum?

Article 12, Section 172 of NYS Navigation Law defines "Petroleum" as "...oil or petroleum of any kind and in any form including, but not limited to, oil, petroleum, fuel oil, oil sludge, oil refuse, oil mixed with other wastes and crude oils, gasoline and kerosene...".

When in doubt, the DEC recommends that anyone with knowledge, report the discovery of any contamination or a release to the NYS Spill Hotline (1-800-457-7362) as soon as possible.

7. What analytical methods should be used to test for hydraulic oil, lube oil, stoddard solvent dielectric fluids or weathered fuels in soils; and what standards are applied to the results?

Soil testing for the suspected presence of these compounds should utilize Method 8260 + 10 Tentatively Identified Compounds (TICs) for the volatiles and Method 8270 + 20 TICs for the semi volatiles. The laboratory will report the 10 highest (for volatiles) and 20 highest (for semi volatiles) tentatively identified compounds as well as their estimated levels contained in the sample.

CP-51 Soil Cleanup Guidance Policy (PDF, 21 pages 201 kB) describes how soil cleanup objectives are determined. The project manager for your site takes into consideration remaining routes of exposure, groundwater contamination, and difficulty of additional soil removal and uses professional judgement to determine the site cleanup objectives.

8. Does my laboratory need to be certified to perform regulatory or compliance sample analyses in New York State?

Yes. Section 502 of the Public Health Law states that no environmental laboratory may perform any examination on samples collected in New York State for regulatory or compliance purposes, unless the laboratory has been issued an Environmental Laboratory Approval Program (ELAP) Certificate of Approval for such testing.

This program is implemented by the Wadsworth Center of the NYS Department of Health. For further information on how to obtain NYS ELAP certification, contact the Environmental Laboratory Approval Program at (518) 485-5570.

9. How many releases occur each year?

The NYS Spill Hotline receives approximately 16,000 reports annually. Most of these reports are for releases of small quantities which are often cleaned up quickly.

10. What is MTBE?

MTBE (methyl tertiary butyl ether) is a fuel additive that belongs to a class of chemicals known as ethers, which contain an oxygen atom interposed between two hydrocarbon groups. It is a flammable liquid with a distinctive, disagreeable taste and odor. It is made by combining isobutylene (a byproduct of the petroleum refinery process) and methanol (which is derived from natural gas).

11. Why is MTBE used?

Since 1979, MTBE has been used as an octane-enhancing replacement for lead, primarily in mid- and high-grade gasoline at concentrations as high as 8 percent by volume. It is also used as a fuel oxygenate at higher concentrations (11 to 15 percent by volume) to fulfill the gasoline oxygenate requirements of the USEPA's Clean Air Act of 1990 Reformulated Gasoline (RFG) and Oxygenated Fuel (OxyFuel) programs. In New York State, RFG is required to be used in the greater New York City metropolitan area to reduce severe air pollution problems.

Adding oxygen to fuels helps reduce air pollution because it promotes more complete burning of gasoline and cuts down on the amount of carbon monoxide and other ozone-depleting compounds which are released into the atmosphere.

12. What happens when petroleum products containing MTBE are released into the environment?

MTBE quickly evaporates from open containers and releases to impervious surfaces. If released to the ground, typically from leaking underground storage tanks or from overturned tanker trucks, the MTBE tends to move quickly through the soil, dissolve in the groundwater and flow with the same velocity as groundwater. Because MTBE has a much lower biodegradation rate than other gasoline compounds of concern, such as benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylene, it has the potential to travel considerable distances from the release site and be the first release contaminant to impact downgradient receptors.

13. What can the public do to prevent MTBE contamination?

Even releases of small amounts of gasoline from recreational and household activities associated with the use of small engines such as lawn mowers, chain saws, snowmobiles, motorboats, jet skis and motors can contribute to MTBE impacts to groundwater. You can help protect public health and the environment from the threat of MTBE contamination if you:

  • Avoid spilling gasoline on the ground, especially near wells.
  • Avoid spilling gasoline in lakes, ponds and rivers.
  • Store gasoline properly and keep containers sealed.
  • Dispose of waste gasoline properly.

14. What are the effects of MTBE in drinking water?

Low levels of MTBE can make drinking water unusable due to its disagreeable taste and odor. Limited data exists on the effects in people of drinking water containing MTBE, but EPA and other groups are continuing to evaluate the available information and are conducting additional research that will address human impact issues.

15. What are the health effects of MTBE?

Exposure to MTBE can potentially cause adverse health effects in humans and animals. The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has posted information on its website on the health effects of MTBE. ATSDR also provides information on many other chemicals through its ToxFAQs program.

16. What is New York State doing about MTBE?

On May 24, 2000, new legislation (Chapter 35, Laws of 2000) was enacted that prohibits gasoline containing MTBE as an additive from being imported, sold, dispensed or offered for sale in New York State beginning January 1, 2004.

The DEC Spill Response Program has procedures in place to quickly respond to, investigate, and clean up sites that involve MTBE impacts to the environment. Where MTBE has been found in a drinking water source, DEC has protected the public by providing alternate sources of safe drinking water, such as bottled water, whole house activated carbon filter systems, replacement wells and hookups to public water supply lines.

DEC is currently involved with the implementation of an EPA Grant to address the MTBE contamination problems resulting from Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) sites on Long Island. The major objectives of this initiative are to:

  • Increase and enhance DEC oversight of LUST projects.
  • Identify potential MTBE contaminated areas for further investigation.
  • Research the cause of bulk storage system and operating failures to minimize or prevent future releases from these systems.
  • Increase staff training on MTBE related issues.
  • Investigate the degree and extent of cross contamination of fuel oil used on Long Island by gasoline during transport and storage.

17. What can I do if I my water supply has a disagreeable taste or odor?

Many people can detect MTBE contaminated drinking water due to its distinctive, disagreeable taste and odor. If you have a private drinking water supply well or if you are a customer of a public water supply system and your water has a disagreeable taste or odor, please contact your local Health Department or the New York State Department of Health at 1-800- 458-1158.

18. How do I find an environmental response, remediation, or laboratory contractor?

The DEC cannot recommend a consultant or contractor, however, here are a few resources you may choose to review.

  • is a "...comprehensive International Directory of Oil Spill Cleanup Contractors and Response Organizations". The site lists contractors by country and state. This site is not affiliated with the DEC.
  • or yellow pages under the categories, Environmental & Ecological Consultants, Engineers Environmental, or Environmental Services.

19. Does the State, or DEC have funds available to local governments to pay for the cleanup of petroleum spill sites?

The DEC does implement the "environmental restoration project," or brownfield, program which was adopted through the 1996 Clean Air/Clean Water Bond Act. Municipalities which own properties contaminated with petroleum may obtain grants under this program covering 75% of the cost of investigating or cleaning up such properties. Only municipalities which did not directly cause the contamination are eligible to receive a brownfield grant. More information about this program may be obtained by calling the Brownfield Coordination Section at (518) 402-9711.

20. Are funds available for school districts for replacement of fuel tanks and associated cleanups?

The NYS Education Department provides funding assistance to schools and school district under their Building Aid program for replacement of petroleum storage tanks including cleanup of any contamination resulting from a release from that storage system. For additional information refer to the NYS Education Department's Building Aid Guide or contact the Facility Planning Unit, NYS Education Department at 518-474-3906.

21. Are funds available for private parties to cleanup petroleum spill sites?

State or Federal funds are not available to responsible parties or potential responsible parties for cleaning up properties contaminated with petroleum. Responsible parties are legally obligated to pay for cleanups themselves. Where the responsible party is unknown or unable to pay for a cleanup that DEC considers necessary to prevent risking public health or the environment, DEC generally finances the cleanup through the "New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund" or the "Leaking Underground Storage Tank Fund," but in such cases, the State would pursue measures to recover its costs from the responsible party as well as interest and penalties.

For more information on the New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund, see the Office of the State Comptroller's Oil Spill Fund.

22. Does the State provide low interest loans for petroleum spill cleanup?

No, however, the Environmental Facilities Corporation implements a program to provide low interest loans to local governments for water quality protection projects. Such projects may include cleaning up petroleum spill sites caused by leaking underground storage tanks. More information about these loans may be obtained by calling the Environmental Facilities Corporation at (518) 402-6924

23. What funds are available to local governments for hazardous materials emergency response?

New York State DEC does not provide direct assistance to local government agencies for hazardous material response. County, city, town, and other municipal governments are eligible for reimbursement of costs associated with responding to hazardous material and waste emergencies. State agencies are not eligible for funding. The provisions that apply to reimbursement are located in 40 CFR Part 310.

24. What are the groundwater cleanup standards at petroleum spill sites in New York State?

Groundwater standards and guidance values can be found in 6 NYCRR Part 703. Additional information can be found in the Division of Water's Technical and Operational Guidance Series (TOGS) 1.1.1.

25. What is STARS Memo #1?

Spill Technology and Remediation Series (STARS) Memo #1 provides guidance on the handling, disposal and/or reuse of ex-situ (excavated) non-hazardous petroleum-contaminated soil. STARS Memo #1 also provides guidance on sampling soil from tank pits and stockpiles.

26. When do you use the soil cleanup guidance values given in STARS Memo #1?

Excavated petroleum-contaminated soil must meet the guidance values listed in STARS Memo #1 before it can be reused off-site.

27. What is a Stipulation Agreement (STIP) and what is its purpose?

A Stipulation Agreement (STIP) is a short-form consent order between the Department and a potential responsible party (PRP) who accepts responsibility for clean-up of a petroleum spill.

The STIP serves two primary purposes. First, it serves as a legally binding agreement under which the PRP agrees to clean up an oil spill, in accordance with an agreed-upon remediation plan and schedule. Second, when a PRP enters into a STIP, no discharge or emission permits are needed, as the discharge or emission limits are incorporated into the agreement.

28. Who Can Enter into a Stipulation Agreement?

Anyone willing to accept responsibility for cleaning up a petroleum release may enter into a stipulation agreement to cleanup the site. This includes the responsible party or a volunteer (person(s) not responsible for the discharge).

29. Why is the STIP program implemented?

The STIP program was implemented to accelerate site cleanups and to define a corrective action plan agreed to by DEC and the party assuming responsibility for the cleanup.

Under the covenant of a stipulation agreement, the administrative requirements of a discharge permit could be waived which allows for cleanups to begin sooner.

With an agreed upon corrective action plan, both the DEC and the party assuming responsibility for the cleanup would have a clear understanding of each others responsibilities which in turn results in more effective cleanups.

30. What is the difference between a STIP and a long-form consent order?

The Stipulation Agreement is a short-form consent order in contrast to a long-form consent order. There are three primary differences between the two forms of consent orders:

  1. The STIP will address only the cleanup portion of a spill site, whereas the long-form order may address other aspects of the situation, including possible fines and/or penalties.
  2. The terms of the STIP are non-negotiable (except for the corrective action plan and schedule), whereas the long-form order is drafted to address site-specific issues, and its terms are subject to negotiation.
  3. The STIP is designed as a fast track procedure with predetermined non-negotiable discharge limits. The long-form order is more complex, and evolves after a lengthy negotiation process.

31. Who decides whether a site should receive a STIP or a long-form order?

DEC may decide that due to the complexity of the remediation plan, or the circumstances under which the spill occurred, that a long-form order is appropriate instead of a STIP. The PRP can also request that they be allowed to negotiate a long-form order instead of a STIP.

32. Will all spill cleanups require a STIP?

Not all spill cleanups will require a STIP. A STIP is intended for any site which will require a moderate to extended period of time to remediate, or which will require a discharge permit (air or water). They are not necessary for quick cleanups where, in the opinion of the Regional Spill Engineer, work will be completed in a relatively short period of time.

33. Are STIP conditions flexible?

The STIP is intended to support a PRP as well as DEC. It does not require a PRP to admit responsibility for the spill; however, it does require the PRP to agree to clean up the spill in accordance with an agreed-upon schedule. The PRP will, in fact, develop the schedule along with DEC. The schedule may identify any or all of the following milestone activities: initiation of the investigation, completion/submittal of the investigation report, submission of the remediation plan, and project start date. DEC recognizes that all this information is typically not available at the beginning of the STIP process. Also, more complex sites require more investigative time, and remediation plans may need to be adjusted to reflect site conditions. Therefore, the schedule is adjustable subject to approval of the Regional Spill Engineer. Having a schedule of required activities will eliminate any confusion between a PRP and the DEC as to what should have taken place and when it should have occurred. It will also save a PRP time and money by not having to apply for air or water discharge permits. A PRPs discharge conditions, which have to be maintained throughout the project, are identified in the STIP. All discharge limits meet existing State and/or federal regulatory requirements.

34. How does the STIP process work?

Within a short time after a spill has occurred, a PRP will receive a STIP Guidance Package, including a "Letter of Responsibility," a Stipulation Agreement, and discharge limits, from the DEC Regional Director.

The letter informs the PRP that, the DEC believes that the PRP is responsible for a spill. The PRP is asked to sign the STIP, agreeing to be responsible for the cleanup. Work can and usually will begin prior to the STIP being signed. Any milestone already completed will be identified in the schedule. The PRP can discuss a proposed schedule and include the schedule with the signed STIP. As stated above, the schedule need not be totally complete at this time. As more information becomes available, amendments to the schedule can be made with the approval of the Regional Spill Engineer. A copy of the STIP, signed by the PRP and the Regional Director, will be returned to the PRP.

35. What if a PRP refuses to sign a STIP?

DEC is responsible by law to ensure that an appropriate and effective cleanup takes place. Therefore, if a PRP refuses to sign a STIP, the Department will hire its own contractor, conduct the spill cleanup, and bill the PRP. It is critical that appropriate remediation be initiated as soon as possible.

36. Does a signed STIP affect a PRPs liability?

Signing a STIP does not increase a PRPs liability. A PRP is responsible for the cleanup regardless of whether the STIP is signed. By signing the STIP, the PRP expresses its desire to cooperate with DEC to clean up the spill. If the PRP is the discharger and DEC determines that enforcement is necessary, cooperation of the PRP is one of the significant issues considered by DEC when deciding on potential fines and/or penalties.

37. What if a PRP is not responsible for a spill?

If the DEC believes a party is responsible for a spill and further investigation proves that the PRP was not responsible for the spill, the PRP may seek reimbursement from the New York Environmental Protection and Spill Compensation Fund (the Spill Fund) for appropriate and previously expended cleanup costs.

38. Where do I get help on STIPS?

Questions on the STIP program should be directed to the DEC Central Office (518) 402-9543. Questions regarding a particular STIP should be directed to the appropriate DEC Regional Office.

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