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Who Takes Care of the Problem of Oil Spills?

In the United States, depending on where the oil spill occurs, either the U.S. Coast Guard or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency takes charge of the spill response.

They, in turn, often call on other agencies (NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service are often called) for help and information. NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) offers scientific support during both oil spill response and environmental restoration efforts.

The goal of federal regulations is to prevent oil spills from happening. People who cause oil spills now must pay severe penalties, and the regulations also call for safer vessel design in the hopes of avoiding future spills. In the U.S., people who respond to oil spills must practice by conducting training drills, and people who manage vessels and facilities that store or transport oil must develop plans explaining how they would respond to a spill, so that they can respond effectively to a spill if they need to.

What about the rest of us?

Because oil and oil products in the environment can cause harm, we need to prevent problems when we can. For example, by avoiding dumping oil or oily waste into the sewer or garbage, we avoid polluting the environment we live in. Sometimes, we can find ways to avoid using oil in the first place: for example, we can bicycle, walk, or take the bus rather than taking a car to some places we need to go. When we use less oil, less needs to be transported, and there's a lower risk of future oil spills. We should understand that it is because we rely on oil that we run the risk of oil spills. That means that all of us share both the responsibility for creating the problem of oil spills and the responsibility for finding ways to solve the problem.


Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: Find out more about the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill and OR&R's involvement in the resulting response, restoration, and research efforts in Prince William Sound, Alaska.

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill 20 Years Later: A NOS Scientist's Perspective [PDF, 268 KB]: Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, Alan Mearns, a senior staff scientist with the Office of Response and Restoration, talks about what it was like to be involved in the initial cleanup and how different it is responding to oil spills today.

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Last updated Tuesday, February 5, 2019 3:50pm PST