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The history of the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) began in 1976 with grounding of the tanker Argo Merchant near Nantucket Shoals in Massachusetts. When the ship broke apart, ultimately spilling nearly 8 million gallons of oil, the U.S. Coast Guard turned to NOAA’s recently formed Spilled Oil Response Team to serve as its scientific advisor and unofficial liaison with the scientific community. That team evolved into NOAA’s Hazardous Materials Response Division and eventually became OR&R.

Today, OR&R is tasked with responding to oil spills, chemical accidents, and other emergencies in coastal areas. Under the National Contingency Plan, NOAA is responsible for providing scientific support to the federal on-scene coordinator for oil and hazardous material spills. To support this mandate, OR&R provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week response to spills.

Our expertise spans oceanography, biology, chemistry, and geology, allowing the response team to estimate oil and chemical trajectories, analyze chemical hazards, and assess risks to coastal animals, habitats, and important commercial and recreational areas. Our teams, led by regional Scientific Support Coordinators, provides scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard for spills in coastal waters.

Photos: View historical images from the 1976 Argo Merchant oil spill.