When industry says a law or regulation has been good for business, I become very suspect.

But with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, that appears to be the case. Shippers and barge operators have embraced the law and statistics show a big drop in oil spills in the 25 years since its enactment.

In our September cover story due out later this month, Associate Editor Kirk Moore takes a look back at OPA ‘90, a quarter century after its enactment. Initially, several operators (especially family run companies) in the inland and coastal tank barge and tanker sector were worried that the new law’s requirement that all new equipment be built with double hulls would force them out of the business. In addition, OPA ‘90 contained new stiff fines for accidents resulting in spills, including unlimited liability if a responsible party was found in violation of laws or grossly negligent.

Despite this, the industry pretty much moved forward. You could say that operators ultimately embraced the new law, based on the quick pace that they double hulled their fleets.

When the final single-hull retirement deadline passed Jan. 1 of this year, the American Waterways Operators noted that most inland and coastal barge operators had double-hulled their fleets well before the phase-out deadlines. The AWO also pointed out that oil spills from tank barges had dropped 99.6% since the enactment of OPA ‘90.

A big factor in the law’s success was support from the shippers, who had their own concerns about being held liable for oil spills under OPA ‘90.

Tank barge company owner Walter Blessey pointed out that the industry changed from the point of view of the shippers. “They cared about quality, and they were willing to pay for it.”

Quality and safety.


David Krapf has been editor of WorkBoat, the nation’s leading trade magazine for the inland and coastal waterways industry, since 1999. He is responsible for overseeing the editorial direction of the publication. Krapf has been in the publishing industry since 1987, beginning as a reporter and editor with daily and weekly newspapers in the Houston area. He also was the editor of a transportation industry daily in New Orleans before joining WorkBoat as a contributing editor in 1992. He has been covering the transportation industry since 1989, and has a degree in business administration from the State University of New York at Oswego, and also studied journalism at the University of Houston.