A Sea Change in Marine Environmental Protection
December 19th 2013 saw the introduction of a new regulation in the US designed to protect marine life. Its significance will be felt globally, as it will ultimately result in the shipping and offshore industries throughout the world adopting a new approach to lubricating wire ropes and umbilicals.
It stems from the introduction of a new Vessel General Permit (VGP) – or, more formally, the Vessel General Permit for Discharges Incidental to the Normal Operation of Vessels. This is a US licence that works alongside the Clean Water Act, which serves to protect the US coastline and inland waters by regulating discharge from vessels entering the sea.
The first VGP was issued in December 2008 and December last year saw a second, more demanding version come into force. It is important that all vessel operators are familiar with this document, as failure to follow the regulations can include fines and imprisonment.
One of the most significant updates between the two versions of the VGP is the requirement of all vessel operators to use Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs). Vessels must switch to EALs for use in oil-to-sea interfaces during their next dry dock.
Environmentally Acceptable Lubricants (EALs)
EALs are formulated to ensure that their impact on the environment is significantly reduced when compared to that of a traditional lubricant. The VGP states that lubricants must meet stringent testing specifications against three main criteria in order to be classified as an EAL: biodegradability, eco-toxicity and bioaccumulation.
This is a measure of how quickly a lubricant would break down into its harmless constituents if released into the sea. In the instance of accidental discharge, a biodegradable lubricant will not remain in the environment for long periods of time, which limits the damage it can cause.
This is a measure of how poisonous a lubricant would be if released into the sea. As described by the VGP, minimally toxic lubricants have little to no impact on marine life. Lubricant manufacturers must ensure that all EALs are tested to, and pass, internationally standardised eco-toxicity tests, ideally performed by an external accredited laboratory.
Even low eco-toxicity chemicals can be dangerous when consumed by animals, due to a process called bioaccumulation. When a bioaccumulative chemical is eaten, it will begin to build up in living tissues and cannot be excreted. At the bottom of the food chain this doesn’t generally cause a problem, since the chemical has low eco-toxicity, but as the chemical moves up the food chain it increases to dangerous concentration levels and can cause significant damage.
Taking action and staying safe
The VGP is one of the most stringent environmental regulations for lubricants ever issued, and it is driving forward the requirement for new cleaner lubricant technologies.
Not only does the VGP state that all EALs must be tested to the standards above, but all components and additives must pass these standards too. This ensures that when the EAL biodegrades, the components are also safe for the environment.
Thankfully ROCOL lubrication technology is already available to meet this environmental challenge – you can find out more about the products available by calling Gareth Procter on 0113 232 2653.