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.

Activities in the Arctic

OR&R is building on decades of experience in Alaska to ensure the safety of Alaskan communities, ecosystems, and local economies while supporting a rising demand for maritime access and offshore development in the Arctic. Take a closer look at our diverse efforts in this part of the world.

Looking for Information about Oil Spills?

Oil spills—some large, more often small—happen along the coasts, Great Lakes, and major rivers of the United States nearly every day.

We have gathered some basic information related to oil spills, cleanup, impacts, and restoration.

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?

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.

High Water and Sunken Oil on the Great Mississippi

March 29, 2017 - If you can’t see spilled oil, how do you find it and clean it up? That's the situation emergency responders faced in two oil spills on the Mississippi River that challenged their understanding of how to approach evaluating oil spill conditions.