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Aerial view of oil slick on water.
Responding to Oil and Chemical Spills

The Office of Response and Restoration's Emergency Response Division (ERD) supports the U.S. Coast Guard by providing round-the-clock scientific expertise for oil and chemical spills in United States marine and coastal waters.

ERD's efforts facilitate spill prevention, preparedness, response, and restoration through its network of Scientific Support Coordinators; a Seattle-based support team of scientists, technical experts, and software developers; and federal, state, and academic partners.

Beach with waves and clouds in sky.
Science of Oil Spills and Chemical Releases Training

In 2016, OR&R’s Emergency Response Division (ERD) and NOAA’s Disaster Response Center launched the Science of Chemical Releases (SOCR) class. Over 30 SOCR students learned critical chemical hazard information and received hands-on training in the use of chemical response and planning software tools, including CAMEO Chemicals, ALOHA, and MARPLOT.

Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique taught 275 responders this critical program that drives operational decisions and deployment of assets during a spill response. In addition, ERD reached 495 responders through the online training, created in partnership with The COMET® Program, covering aerial observation of oil on water.

Other countries expanded on the training to the Panama Canal Authority under the auspices of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Panama Canal Authority and the U.S. National Response Team on the use of NOAA software tools for chemical response (CAMEO) and oil spill transport and fate (GNOME, ADIOS). Responders and planners in Panama, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Guatemala now have information and tools to better manage and plan for responses to oil and chemical incidents.

Boat on water near oil spill.
New Integrated Spill Models and Tools

NOAA Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R)’s Emergency Response Division (ERD) has been driving a multi-year effort to improve GNOME, the flagship trajectory modeling tool for NOAA’s spill response support. The new version will provide a web interface and powerful features including integration with the NOAA ADIOS oil weathering model, web interface for prepackaged tide and current information for a particular place, a new deepwater blowout model, improved 3D support, and enhanced output to better interact with GIS systems. With increasing oil development and shipping in the Arctic, the new model will more accurately predict the weathering and transport of oil as it occurs in cold-water environments and in the presence of ice.

An additional benefit to responders and planners will be the integration of the Response Options Calculator (ROC) into GNOME. ROC is a multi-faceted tool that assesses the general performance of oil spill response systems, such as the mechanical recovery of oil from the water, the application of dispersant, and the burning of spilled oil. When complete in early 2017, the new GNOME will be used by OR&R to provide timely information for decision-making during oil spill response - and will be freely available to the broader academic, response, and oil spill planning communities.

Person in diving suit on a boat with two others.
Response Highlights in Fiscal Year 2016

The US Coast Guard (USCG) conducted an assessment dive of the the sunken wreck of Tank Barge Argo, lost in 1937 in Lake Erie, when an active chemical plume and odors were noted above the tank barge. The benzene cargo was characterized and ultimately removed. NOAA Office of Response and Restoration’s Emergency Response Division (ERD), with state and federal partners, managed the development of environmental monitoring, water sampling, sediment sampling, and waste disposal plans for the Argo response.

Two tug boats collided on the Mississippi River near Columbus, Kentucky, spilling an estimated 120,500 gallons of oil. The oil was heavier than water and was at the bottom of a murky, flowing river; posing unique challenges. ERD provided river flow forecasts, chemistry of the spilled oil, a submerged oil assessment, assistance with a side scan sonar, and assistance with the selection of unique response technologies, such as environmental clamshell dredging.

ERD supported the USCG response to an oil spill in the Green Canyon oil reserve area in the Gulf of Mexico, providing oil spill trajectory analysis and information on natural resources potentially at risk from the oil, including species and habitats in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

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Responding to Spills