Environmental Legislation / US Vessel General Permit

Understanding the on-going regulatory reviews to protect our waters

Castrol’s Liquid Engineers are committed to meeting regulations that preserve our marine environment. 

Regulations from MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) and IMO (International Maritime Organisation) protect international waters against accidental oil and chemicals spills. New legislation is being formulated to take into account the day-to-day operational discharges of chemicals in the sea, which often take place below the waterline.  

More than 5,000 Marine Protected Areas exist worldwide and polar waters are increasingly protected. IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee and Marine Environment Protection Committee have issued guidelines for ships operating in polar waters which state that "Stern tube bearings, seals and main propulsion components located outside the hull should not leak pollutants. Non-toxic, biodegradable lubricants are not considered to be pollutants".

US 2013 Vessel General Permit

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the USA has published a new version of the Vessel General Permit (VGP), which has been in force since 19th December 2013, mandating  the use of ‘Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants’ (EALs) by any ‘vessel’ calling in the waters of the United States. From this date, all ‘vessels’ in the ‘waters of the United States’ must:
  • Obtain a Vessel General Permit (VGP)
  • Use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants in all oil-to-sea interfaces, unless technically infeasible

WHY THE CHANGE?

The EPA’s recognition of the impact that lubricant discharges (not accidental spills) have on the marine ecosystem has motivated the change.  The 2013 VGP mandates the use of EALs for all applications where lubricants are likely to enter the sea, not mineral oils, as EALs can offer a significantly reduced environmental impact across all applications.

IS MY VESSEL COVERED?

The new legislation will cover most commercial marine vessels over 79 feet in length, regardless of when they were built. There are exceptions, the EPA’s website gives more detail about what is covered and what is not. Most commercial vessels under 79 feet will come under the EPA's small Vessel General Permit (sVGP), when issued.  Visit http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/npdes/vessels/Vessel-General-Permit.cfm for more information. 

WHAT ARE THE “WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES”?

Anywhere within three miles of the US coast, including inland waterways and the Great Lakes.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’M USING AN ENVIRONMENTALLY ACCEPTABLE LUBRICANT (EAL)?

The EPA defines EALs as lubricants that are biodegradable, minimally toxic and not bioaccumulative. The definition includes products that are labelled under OSPAR, Blue Angel, European Ecolabel, Nordic Swan and Swedish Standard SS 1554701. Products that have one of the labels above will be classified as an EAL or if they meet the criteria set by the EPA for biodegradation, bioaccumulation and toxicity.

Castrol BioStat, BioBar and BioTac product ranges are registered under OSPAR (Oslo and Paris Convention) and meet the US 2013 VGP EAL criteria.

WHAT ARE “OIL-TO-SEA INTERFACES”?

‘Oil-to-sea interfaces’ where EALS must be used include controllable pitch propeller and thruster hydraulic fluids, paddle wheel propulsion, stern tubes, thruster bearings, stabilizers, rudder bearings, azimuth thrusters, propulsion pod lubrication, and wire rope and mechanical equipment subject to immersion. Also covered is any on-deck equipment which has contact with water when at sea (is subject to immersion), as well as lubricants used in two stroke diesel inboard engines that generate wet exhaust.

WHAT IS “TECHNICALLY INFEASIBLE”?

The permit defines “technically infeasible” as:
  • No EAL products are approved for use in a given application
  • Products that come pre-lubricated (e.g. wire ropes lubricated for life during manufacture, with no EAL available during manufacture)
  • EALs meeting the manufacturers’ specifications are not available in any port at which the vessel calls
  • Change over and use of an EAL must wait until the vessel’s next dry-docking
If it’s technically infeasible to use an EAL, you must explain the reasons in your record-keeping documentation, and note the use of a non-environmentally acceptable lubricant in your vessel’s Annual Report.

HOW IS THE VGP BEING ENFORCED?

The EPA is relying on vessel operators to self-report EAL use. You must keep records Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) on board for all EALs used in oil-to-sea interfaces. 

You must also document whether the EALs are registered under a labelling programme (e.g. DfE, OSPAR, Ecolabel), and you must record the reason if it is technically infeasible for you to use an EAL. 

The US coastguard will carry out spot-checks on vessels to verify compliance. Action taken for non-compliance ranges from written warnings to fines depending on the severity and frequency of non-compliance.  

WHAT CASTROL PRODUCTS MEET THE NEW REQUIREMENTS?

Our Castrol BioStat, BioBar and BioTac product ranges are registered under OSPAR (Oslo and Paris Convention) and therefore meet the criteria for being EALs under the US 2013 VGP.

HOW CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE NEW REGULATIONS?

The full text of the permit along with an accompanying fact sheet is available from the EPA website http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/npdes/vessels/Vessel-General-Permit.cfm. The draft VGP is also available on this website.   

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