Our History

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.

Argo Merchant: A Woods Hole Scientist's Personal Perspective

This is sixth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Argo Merchant: What if it happened today?

This is fifth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 16, 2016 -- Whenever oil is transported there is a risk of accidents and spills, but the 40 years since the Argo Merchant oil spill have seen improvements in laws, shipping technology and spill response.

Tools and Products: 40 Years of Spill Technology

This is fourth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 15, 2016 -- Earlier stories have described the Argo Merchant oil spill as the catalyst for the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). Its ongoing partnership with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and other agencies has expanded from scientific support to include the latest developments in spill response technology.

Argo Merchant: The Birth of Modern Oil Spill Response

This is third in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 14, 2016 -- When the Argo Merchant ran aground on Nantucket Shoals off Massachusetts early on Dec. 15, 1976, and spilled nearly 8 million gallons of heavy fuel oil, it became the worst marine oil spill the United States had seen. It also led to the eventual creation of the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R).

Argo Merchant: The Growth of Scientific Support

This is second in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 13, 2016 -- Disasters often spark major changes.

Emergency Response and Assessment 40 Years after Argo Merchant

This is first in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 12, 2016 -- On Dec. 15, 1976, the tanker Argo Merchant ran aground off the coast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.