Australian Maritime Safety Authority

Oil Spill Control Agents

Product approval or acceptance for oil spill control agents

From time to time, suppliers of oil spill response products (particularly involving new or innovative technology) ask about what requirements exist for ‘approval’ in Australia, in order to enable their Oil Spill Control Agents (OSCAs) to be used here.

Regulatory powers

Australia has no specific regulatory powers to ‘license’ or ‘approve’ oil spill control products.

An OSCA is considered acceptable for maritime use once listed on the OSCA Register. This involves providing evidence that the OSCA is suitable for use in Australia.

Once OSCA Register listed, the use of these products to assist in oil spill clean-up in Australian Waters during a National Plan response is protected under an exemption under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Oil spill control agents are chemicals that generally fall into one of the nine major product types shown in the table.

Product Type Purpose Sub Type
Oil Spill Dispersants (OSD)

Products which, when applied to floating oil or oil on shorelines, increase the rate of penetration of oil into the water column and increase the persistence of this dispersed oil below the surface.

1.1 Hydrocarbon- based
1.2 Water-dilutable concentrates
1.3 Concentrates
Surface Cleaners or Washing Agents (SCA) Products which, when applied to oil on shorelines or other firm surfaces, facilitates oil removal by natural processes or cleanup activities.
Bioremediation Agents (OBA) Products which, when applied to oil or oiled substrates, enhance the biological degradation of oil by stimulating the growth of oil degrading bacteria or fungi 3.1 Nutrient only
3.2 Biological agent
Loose Sorbents (OSA) Products (usually powder, granules or beads) which adsorb or absorb oil. Note: Sorbent pads, bags and books that are easily recovered are not included amongst OSCAs. 4.1 Natural - organic
4.2 Natural - mineral
4.3 Synthetic material
Degreasers (ODA) Products used for cleaning oil from solid surfaces (more commonly machinery or marine structures). Unlike washing agents, degreasers do not result in the incorporation of oil into run-off waters. 5.1 Natural solvent products
5.2 Enzyme-based products
5.3 Solvent-based products
Solidifying or Gelling Agents (OSA) Products which, when applied to oil, result in the oil forming or being incorporated into a solid or semi solid matrix.
Emulsion Breakers (EBA) Products designed to separate oil and water from emulsions. These are not generally used outside of controlled environments.
Herding Agents (OHA) Products added to surface oil to restrict spreading
Wicking Agents (OWA) Products added to surface oil to facilitate ignition.

OSCA - Acceptance to use

The Australian approach to OSCAs involves four key elements:

  • Acceptance and listing on the OSCA Register. Registry listing ensures formal recognition of an OSCA for planning and use. This requires testing for efficacy under specific Australian conditions (tropical and temperate) and with oils (crude and fuel), and for toxicology on up to 10 local species. Existing products are grandfathered into the Registry until stocks are exhausted - new stock, even of currently held formulations, must gain new registry listing before use.
  • Logistics – National Plan stockpiles, equipment and capability to use the OSCAs in a spill response, including the National Plan Fixed Wing Aerial Dispersant Capability arrangements.
  • Approval – specific approval to use the OSCA in a response from the incident controller and any regulatory authorities.
  • Monitoring – of the use of the spill to determine the need to use the OSCA and of its effectiveness once applied is called response phase or operational monitoring.

Further information

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