Controlling Claimed Costs from Industrial Spills

Accidents happen: tanks and pipelines rupture, vehicles turnover, valves break, etc.

The best spill response plans protect people and the environment while minimizing potential spread of contamination. In the hurry to cleanup a site after a spill, thoughts regarding the expected spill volume can be forgotten. As a result, the claimed costs associated with spill cleanup may exceed what is reasonable for the size of the spill.

  • How can you assess if the claimed costs are unreasonable?
  • How can you prevent a client from incurring excess costs from the initial spill response through to site closure?

Roux Associates sees numerous examples of industrial spills where the claimed costs exceed any reasonable assessment of the spill impact. While typically Emergency Response or Emergency Removal actions proceed appropriately, they can also advance without checking the expected spill volume. Under those circumstances, a larger area can be remediated compared to the actual area associated with the spill volume. Below are ways that can help avoid such costs:

  • Establish baseline conditions
    • There may be unknown preexisting conditions of contamination at the site where the spill cleanup activities may assume that all contamination resulted from the current spill. At some sites, impacts from long-term facility contamination far exceed the impacts from individual spills.
  • Proceed without being in emergency mode after contamination threat has stabilized
    • Emergency conditions typically last from 24-48 hours. However, too often emergency response contractors maintain their emergency state even after the event has stabilized. Our experience is that the emergency phase results in a 40-60% premium in cost primarily due to overtime charges and accumulating unnecessary equipment/personnel deployment costs. In addition, technical details continue to get overlooked, even when there is time to proceed with more care.

Frequently, notice of the claim happens long after the cleanup activities are complete. In those circumstances, doing some environmental forensics is necessary to assess the reasonableness of the claim.  Following are steps that can help assess reasonableness of the costs after the spill is cleaned up:

  • Review the decision making process and criteria for remediation steps
    • Often, soil removal proceeds without a focus of efficiency and optimization because emergency response contractors are trained to contain and control, not to assess the reasonableness of each step. Understanding what metrics they are using to decide which material is contaminated and which material can stay in place, is critical in understanding if the costs are reasonable. Reasonable removal costs must be associated with a reasonable decision-making process for determining what is hauled away and disposed.
  • Get an accurate accounting of volume spilled vs. volume recovered in contaminated material
    • The mass or volume of the contaminant spilled cannot be more than what is cleaned up from the environment. This concept seems simple, but it can provide the strongest forensic evidence that costs incurred exceed what is directly connected with the spill event. Volume spilled can sometimes be limited to the size of the vessel, whereas volume recovered can be reconstructed based on site or waste characterization data.

Lastly, facilitating client education regarding spills, spill response and emergency removal actions allow for partnership on-site that seek to create a smooth, documented, and defensible environmental claim.

If you would like Roux to help with upfront management, after the spill assessments of claimed industrial spills, or help with developing educational material for clients to help them control the environmental costs from industrial spills, please click here and we would be happy to assist you.