What is NOAA's role in responding to oil spills?


Thousands of incidents occur each year in which oil or chemicals are released into the environment as a result of accidents or natural disasters.  NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) provides scientific expertise and comprehensive solutions to support an incident response, and performs natural resource damage assessments.  OR&R has a team of scientific support coordinators, oceanographers, biologists, chemists, economists and support staff dedicated to pollution response and restoration. Under the National Contingency Plan and the National Response Plan, NOAA has responsibility for providing scientific support to the Federal On-Scene Coordinator for oil and hazardous material spills on a 24-hour, 7 day a week basis.

OR&R uses many techniques to make decisions on the best way to respond to, cleanup, reduce and assess injuries from oil spills including: computer trajectory modeling, shoreline assessments, field sampling, information management, and overflight observations.  Trajectory modeling uses oceanographic and hydrographic information to forecast where the spill might go and its potential effects on the coastal environment. Shoreline assessment is conducting surveys of affected shorelines to determine habitat sensitivity and degree of oil contamination in order to select cleanup priorities and procedures.

NOAA’s integrated approach fosters cooperation with other Federal, state and local agencies throughout the oil spill response process.  NOAA also provides information management technology and Web site support to help both on-scene and off-site scientists and responders share information during a spill. 

This month’s expert: Mark Dix, Deputy Chief, Emergency Response Division, NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration

To ask NOAA a question or view past questions,
please visit Answers@NOAA.