Tier 1 Spill Definition

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What Is a Tier 1 Spill?

A Tier 1 spill is a type of classification for an oil spill that describes a low-severity spill. This classification system was created by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA). The IPIECA classification system includes three tiers of oil spills, organized according to their severity as well as the response systems required to effectively remedy them.

Key Takeaways

  • A Tier 1 spill is a type of classification for an oil spill that describes a low-severity spill.
  • This classification system was created by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) and includes three tiers of oil spills that are organized according to their severity.
  • Tier 1 spills are commonly handled by employees that are cross-trained with other job functions, rather than requiring a dedicated Tier 1 spill-response staff.

How Tier 1 Spills Work

A Tier 1 oil spill is the least serious of the three types of oil spills that are classified by the IPIECA. Typically, Tier 1 oil spills only involve localized damage located on or near the oil-extraction company’s facilities. In most cases, Tier 1 spills arise as a result of minor accidents that take place on a company’s premises.

This type of oil spill is a relatively common occurrence, and they are generally resolved within a matter of hours or days. Oil companies will ensure that groups of employees are trained to effectively respond to Tier 1 spills. Although these spill-response operations can at times become quite complex, Tier 1 spills are sometimes so minor that they can be resolved using mops, absorbent materials, and other such basic equipment.

If a particular spill reaches the point where it cannot be handled by these internal teams of employees, companies must reach out for external help. In this situation, the oil spill would be reclassified from Tier 1 to Tier 2. While in most situations the company would be able to receive help from outside parties, the cost and time required to do so may be prohibitive in situations where the facility is especially remote. For this reason, companies operating in remote locations are required to have internal spill-response capabilities adequate to handle a Tier 2 spill without any outside intervention.

Tier 1 spills rarely make their way into mainstream media coverage because they are generally resolved quickly and leave little to no material impact beyond the immediate premises of the company in question.

In many situations, especially for those employed at marine oil terminals, being part of a Tier 1 spill response team is not a full-time role. Instead, a full-time employee with another position will also receive training in Tier 1 spill response. If a spill occurs, that person, along with other trained team members, will be required to temporarily leave their usual post and assist with the spill cleanup. Once the spill is remedied, they return to their usual posts.

Example of a Tier 1 Spill

Of course, even with these safety measures in place, some spills become so severe that the standard response measures are unable to contain them. One example of such a crisis was the catastrophic BP Oil Spill that occurred in April 2010. As a result of this crisis, oil companies and investors know that a failure to respond effectively to an oil spill could result in its escalation from a manageable Tier 1 spill into a Tier 2 spill (or in some cases, even a Tier 3 event). 



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