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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.

OR&R has four divisions:

Emergency Response Division (ERD)

ERD provides scientific expertise to support oil and chemical spill responses in United States coastal waters. ERD specialists also offer tools, training, and information to emergency responders and planners. Formerly the Hazardous Materials Response Division (HAZMAT). ERD’s activities in oil spill response are mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the National Contingency Plan.

Assessment and Restoration Division (ARD)

ARD, through NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program (DARRP), investigates the types of injuries to the environment, and quantifies how many animals were harmed, and recommends the amount of restoration required to compensate the American public for those impacts. DARRP was formally created in 1992 in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Marine Debris Program (MDP)

The Marine Debris Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act of 2006 established the Marine Debris Program, which investigates and prevents the adverse impacts of marine debris.

Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC)

The Disaster Response Center, opened in 2012, establishes an unprecedented regional presence and expands federal capacity to plan for and respond to all hazards in the Gulf of Mexico region. Intended to serve as a safe and ready command center during major disaster responses in the Gulf, the DRC also offers facilities for drills, trainings, workshops, and planning activities.

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