On March 24, 1989 the EXXON VALDEZ spilled approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaska. Less than a year later on February 7, 1990 the AMERICAN TRADER spilled approximately 416,598 gallons of crude oil off Huntington Beach in Southern California. These events inspired the California Legislature to enact legislation in 1990 called the Lempert-Keene-Seastrand Oil Spill Prevention and Response Act.
The Act covered all aspects of marine oil spill prevention and response in California. It established an Administrator who is given very broad powers to implement the provisions of the Act. The Act also gave the State Lands Commission certain authority over marine terminals. In 1991 the Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR) opened, headed by the Administrator.
The Act created an Administrator who is appointed by the Governor, subject to the advice and consent of the Senate, and serves at the pleasure of the Governor. Subject to the Governor, the Administrator has the primary authority in California to direct prevention, removal, abatement, response, containment, and cleanup efforts with regard to all aspects of any oil spill in marine waters of the state. The Governor, through the Administrator, must provide the best achievable protection of surface waters of the state.
The Administrator is also a Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife, and as such the Administrator has been delegated the additional responsibilities of carrying out the statewide water pollution enforcement authority of the Department of Fish & Wildlife, derived from the CA Fish and Wildlife Code §5650.
On Nov. 7, 2007, the container ship M/V Cosco Busan released more than 53,000 gallons of oil, impacting birds, marine mammals, fish, habitat and recreation throughout the San Francisco Bay. In the years since, OSPR dramatically improved its ability to effectively help prevent and respond to oil spill emergencies by creating much stronger alliances between all stakeholders in spill response, ranging from the various levels of government to industry to concerned volunteers. OSPR also started a grant program for local governments for equipment.
As the oil boom in North Dakota and Canada gained momentum, OSPR staff recognized the start of a significant shift in oil sources for California. The shift meant more crude oil would eventually arrive in California through the only means available: vessels, barges and trains. While California’s marine spill response program was robust and ready for the shift, the inland areas where oil would travel by rail was not. Many types of crude oil travel by rail, but the production in North Dakota and Canada meant California could see an increase of as much as 143 million barrels (42 gallons per barrel) coming through the state.
In 2014, Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. expanded the OSPR program to cover all statewide surface waters at risk of oil spills from any source, including pipelines and the increasing shipments of oil transported by railroads. This expansion provided critical administrative funding for industry preparedness, spill response, and continued coordination with local, state and federal government along with industry and non-governmental organizations. Senate Bill 861 authorized the expansion and provided the additional statutory and regulatory authority, for the prevention, preparedness and response activities in the new inland areas of responsibility.
Key objectives are:
- Target critical locations to stage spill responders and equipment for the best response to rail and pipeline incidents;
- Develop effective regulations in close collaboration with local government, non-governmental organizations, and industry;
- Implement regulations that will guide industry, local and state government, and the public and build relationships with local governments through workshops and presentations;
- Create inland response plans that have the depth and breadth of the marine Area Contingency Plans; and,
- Work with communities to build a strong response spill team.
More information about OSPR and its programs