American Geological Institute

Government Affairs Program

Update on Oil Pollution Act of 1990 Revisions (12-5-96)

Both the House and Senate passed identical versions of S. 1004, the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, which includes important reforms to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA 90). President Clinton signed S. 1004 on October 19, 1996 making it Public Law 104- 324. These legislative changes, long petitioned by domestic oil and gas producers in offshore waters, were passed by the House on September 28 and the Senate on September 29. Both chambers unanimously passed the conference report that included language amending the offshore facility financial responsibility requirements under the original act.

OPA 90 was originally passed by Congress in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but the domestic industry and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) have argued that certain parts of the legislation were open to very liberal interpret ations thereby creating excessive financial burdens for the industry. The passage of the OPA 90 amendment is being hailed as an important victory for the domestic oil and gas industry, while preserving the environmental safeguards originally intended by C ongress.

The conference language clarifies the definition of offshore facilities excluding marinas, refineries, and land-based terminals, and ensures that the law applies only to offshore exploration and production facilities located seaward of the line of ordinar y low water. The amendment also significantly lowers the amount of financial responsibility required for traditional offshore facilities, and restricts third parties from suing "guarantors" instead of producers except in certain cases. In addition, the to tal liability of any guarantor is limited to the amount of financial responsibility provided.

(Contributed by John Dragonetti, AGI Government Affairs)

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Last updated December 5, 1996

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