An oiled marsh on the coast of Louisiana following the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in 2010. (NOAA)

Oil Spills

During an oil spill in coastal waters, OR&R's role is to provide scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard officers in charge of response operations. In addition to spill response software and mapping tools, OR&R provides standard techniques and publishes guidelines for observing oil, assessing shoreline impact, and evaluating accepted cleanup technologies. Students and teachers can find a variety of oil spill-related educational resources in our Education section. For stories, news, and updates about current, notable, and historical oil spills, please refer to our Media page.

To better prepare response communities for oil spills, OR&R develops several software and map tools for spill response and planning.

OR&R also publishes many of its guidelines for emergency responders and planners as small, field-oriented job aids.

How NOAA Responds to Oil Spills

While the U.S. Coast Guard oversees all responses to oil spills and chemical accidents in U.S. navigable waters, OR&R provides them with the science-based expertise and support they need to make informed decisions during these emergency responses.

Abandoned and Derelict Vessels

Sunken, stranded, and decrepit vessels—especially those with oil still on board—can become hazards to navigation while also posing as significant pollution threats to sensitive marine and coastal habitats. OR&R is working on this issue in a variety of ways.

Largest Oil Spills Affecting U.S. Waters Since 1969

Since the iconic 1969 oil well blowout in Santa Barbara, California, there have been numerous oil spills over 10,000 barrels which affected U.S. waters.

The largest of which was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

See a map showing the largest oil spills in U.S. waters.

Oil Types

Learn about the many different kinds of oil, which differ from each other in viscosity, volatility, and toxicity. When spilled, the various types of oil can affect the environment differently. They also differ in how hard they are to clean up.

How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments

In general, oil spills can affect animals and plants in two ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Understanding both types of impacts can help spill responders minimize overall impacts to marine ecological communities and help them to recover much more quickly.

How Toxic Is Oil?

There are many kinds of oil, and each is a complex mixture of chemicals. What are some ways oil can cause harm to living organisms?

How to Locate Wildlife Threatened During Oil Spills

Aug. 7, 2017 - This is the first story in a weeklong look at the impacts of pollutants on wildlife and endangered species. We’ll explore tools we’ve developed to map sensitive species and habitats, how marine debris endangers marine life, how restoring toxic waste sites improves the health of wildlife, and the creation of a mobile wildlife hospital.

Spill Containment Methods

During an oil spill response, sensitive locations threatened by an advancing oil slick can be protected with various kinds of equipment and tactics.

How NOAA Responds to Oil Spills

While the U.S. Coast Guard oversees all responses to oil spills and chemical accidents in U.S. navigable waters, OR&R provides them with the science-based expertise and support they need to make informed decisions during these emergency responses.

Abandoned and Derelict Vessels

Sunken, stranded, and decrepit vessels—especially those with oil still on board—can become hazards to navigation while also posing as significant pollution threats to sensitive marine and coastal habitats. OR&R is working on this issue in a variety of ways.

Largest Oil Spills Affecting U.S. Waters Since 1969

Since the iconic 1969 oil well blowout in Santa Barbara, California, there have been numerous oil spills over 10,000 barrels which affected U.S. waters.

The largest of which was the 2010 Deepwater Horizon well blowout in the Gulf of Mexico.

See a map showing the largest oil spills in U.S. waters.

Oil Types

Learn about the many different kinds of oil, which differ from each other in viscosity, volatility, and toxicity. When spilled, the various types of oil can affect the environment differently. They also differ in how hard they are to clean up.

How Oil Harms Animals and Plants in Marine Environments

In general, oil spills can affect animals and plants in two ways: from the oil itself and from the response or cleanup operations. Understanding both types of impacts can help spill responders minimize overall impacts to marine ecological communities and help them to recover much more quickly.

How Toxic Is Oil?

There are many kinds of oil, and each is a complex mixture of chemicals. What are some ways oil can cause harm to living organisms?

How to Locate Wildlife Threatened During Oil Spills

Aug. 7, 2017 - This is the first story in a weeklong look at the impacts of pollutants on wildlife and endangered species. We’ll explore tools we’ve developed to map sensitive species and habitats, how marine debris endangers marine life, how restoring toxic waste sites improves the health of wildlife, and the creation of a mobile wildlife hospital.

Spill Containment Methods

During an oil spill response, sensitive locations threatened by an advancing oil slick can be protected with various kinds of equipment and tactics.