Ten years after the enactment of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990: a success or a failure
In response to the Exxon Valdez incident, the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 was enacted as allegedly comprehensive oil pollution legislation. There have been changes in the patterns of oil spills and the strategic response to the Act. The number and volume of oil spills from tank vessels in US waters have fallen considerably without an obvious increase in oil prices since the enactment of the Act. This implies that the Act has successfully served its purpose. The Act may also facilitate the development of other oil pollution regimes including the international regime beyond the US. However, it remains to be seen whether the reduction of oil spills in US waters will be sustained in the future. There is an irreducible risk irrespective of any policy controlling oil pollution risks. The assertion that the Act has been effective in deterring oil spills may be counteracted by statistics demonstrating that the number and quantity of oil spills have also declined worldwide since 1990. It is premature to evaluate the performance of the Act because it has not so far been tested by a major oil spill since its enactment. A major oil spill in US waters in the future would illuminate limitation of the Act and lead to a fundamental reconsideration of the structure of the Act.