Date of Award


Degree Type

Major Paper

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Marine Affairs


The signing of the Oil Pollution Control Act of 1990, Public law 101-380, (OPA 90) on August 18, 1990 was a significant landmark in the struggle to control pollution by oil and the activities associated with the recovery, transport, and refinement of oil and associated products in the territorial waters of the United States, and was long overdue. The aftermath of the Exxon Valdez spill, which was the impetus that finally prodded Congress to pass the oil spill legislation that had been under consideration for years, has been filled with controversy over how the spill occurred, how the clean up was handled, environmental damage, and the question of how safe are these tankers that are daily operating in U.S. waters. All agreed that the situation with regard to oil spills and oil transport as existed under U.S. law prior to the passage of OPA 90 was untenable and had to be modified. The question remains, however, as to whether OPA '90 as currently written is the solution that was required or not. As with all legislation that is concerned with preventing damage to the environment and with correcting the damage that does occur, there will be costs to society that will have to be incurred to carry out these programs. These costs may be viewed as being applied to a specific industry or industries, as in this case the oil industry and the related portion of the shipping industry involved with the transport of oil and oil products, but eventually society as a whole pays a portion of these costs, either in the form of higher prices, lost jobs, higher taxes, lower return on capital investment, or in damage to the environment. This paper is a discussion of provisions of OPA '90, whether this was sound legislation or a hurried response to a public outcry, the possible effects of OPA 90 on the shipping industry and oil industry as well as related industries, and some proposals on where OPA 90 needs to be amended and how to best induce cooperation and compliance from the shipping and oil industries. As this is an ongoing issue with new facts and details coming to light almost daily, this paper will be restricted to the state of events as of September, 1991.