Environmental Legislation / US Vessel General Permit

Like you, we understand the need for the ongoing review of regulations designed to protect our waters.

At Castrol, our Liquid Engineers are committed to preserving the marine environment and meeting the wide range of regulations designed to protect it. 

All international waters are protected against accidental spills of oil and chemicals under MARPOL (International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships) regulations from IMO (International Maritime Organization). 

At present, these regulations don’t take into account the day-to-day operational discharges of chemicals in the sea (which often take place below the waterline of ships), which is why new legislation is being formulated.  

Polar waters are increasingly protected, and more than 5,000 Marine Protected Areas exist worldwide. Guidelines have been issued by the International Maritime Organization's Maritime Safety Committee and Marine Environment Protection Committee for ships operating in polar waters. These state that "Sterntube 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 EALs in all oil-to-sea interfaces, unless technically infeasible

Why the change?

The change has been motivated by recognition by the EPA of the substantial impact of lubricant discharges, (not accidental spills), on the marine ecosystem. For all applications where lubricants are likely to enter the sea, the 2013 VGP mandates that the use of EALs as opposed to 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. The EPA’s website gives more detail about what else is covered (e.g. in some circumstances, mobile drilling rigs or vessels under construction) and what is not (e.g. most vessels under 79 feet and vessels of the Armed Forces.)
Most commercial vessels under 79 feet will come under the EPA's small Vessel General Permit (sVGP), when issued).  Visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vgpermit.cfm for more information.  

What are the “waters of the United States”?

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

How do I know if I’m using an Environmentally Acceptable Lubricant (EAL)?

EALs are defined by the EPA as lubricants that are biodegradable, minimally toxic and not bioaccumulative.
The EPA’s definition of EALs also 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.

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.

What are “oil-to-sea interfaces”?

Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants must be used in controllable pitch propeller and thruster hydraulic fluids and other oil-to-sea interfaces including lubrication discharges from paddle wheel propulsion, stern tubes, thruster bearings, stabilizers, rudder bearings, azimuth thrusters, propulsion pod lubrication, and wire rope and mechanical equipment subject to immersion. 

Any equipment on the deck of a vessel which has contact with water when at sea i.e. is subject to immersion, is covered as well as lubricants used in two stroke diesel inboard engines that generate wet exhaust.

What is “technically infeasible”?

“Technically infeasible” is defined in the permit 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 for your vessel to use an EAL, it is essential that you explain the reasons in your record-keeping documentation, as well as noting 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 usage, so you must keep records on board of Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for all EALs used in oil-to-sea interfaces. 

It’s crucial for you to also document whether the EALs are registered under a labelling program (e.g. DfE, OSPAR, Ecolabel). If it is technically infeasible for you to use an EAL, your record-keeping must document the reason. 

The US coastguard will carry out spot-checks of vessels to verify compliance. The range of action taken for non-compliance will start with written warnings and move up to fines depending on the severity and frequency of the 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://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/vessels/vgpermit.cfm. The draft VGP is also available on this website.   

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