A chemical or product (e.g., gasoline) used to intentionally accelerate a fire. A Federal On-Scene Coordinator, in executing an in-situ burn of spilled oil, may use an accelerant to help ignite the oil, or to increase the burn rate.

Describes habitats and ecosystems that exist in bodies of water.

Alternate Response Technologies
Non-mechanical means of physically removing spilled oil. In the United States, these options include the use of dispersants, in-situ burning, and bioremediation, which may be used in conjunction with, or in place of, mechanical technologies such as booms and skimmers.

Area Contingency Plan
These localized spill response plans are the essential building blocks of the National Contingency Plan. Each Regional Response Team divides its jurisdiction into sub-regions, or areas. (These areas generally parallel the administrative structure of the U.S. EPA or U.S. Coast Guard.) An Area Committee, drawn from governmental agencies with pollution-response authority within the specified area, is the focal point for response planning. The Committee compiles a plan that provides detailed information on response procedures, priorities and appropriate countermeasures, and integrates federal, state, local and industry capabilities. The plan may also include contract response organizations. (Citizens and nongovernmental entities are encouraged to provide input at Committee meetings, but do not have a formal vote.) Each Committee is chaired by a Federal On-Scene Coordinator.

A dark brown/black residue that remains when petroleum products are exposed to the elements for long periods of time. Asphalt can vary in texture from hard and brittle to soft and malleable, depending on temperature.

Bioaugmentation; also, seeding
Adding more of a microorganism that already exists an environment in order to enhance the biodegradation of a pollutant, such as oil.

The breaking down of a substance by microorganisms that use the substance for food, producing harmless byproducts such as carbon dioxide and water.

Biological community
All the living things in a given environment.

The use of bioaugmentation or biostimulation to promote the biodegradation of pollutants into less harmful components.

Biostimulation; also, nutrient enrichment; also, fertilization
Adding nutrients (e.g., phosphorus, nitrogen) to a contaminated environment to stimulate the growth of microorganisms that will break down a pollutant, such as oil.

The plant and animal life of a particular environment.

A temporary floating barrier used to contain a floating substance, such as oil, spilled on the water. A boom usually includes a containment component that floats on - and extends above - the water's surface, plus an underwater "skirt" or "curtain."

A facility regulated by two or more federal agencies under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act.

Contingency plan
A document that sets out procedures and guidelines for personnel to follow when responding to emergencies (e.g., discovering, assessing, containing, and removing and disposing of an oil spill).

The tactical placement of equipment and personnel during spill response.

As defined by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, a discharge is any spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, or dumping that allows a harmful quantity (visible sheen) of oil to enter the waters of the U.S. or impact the adjoining shorelines.

Chemicals used to break spilled oil down into small, readily biodegradable droplets

The spread of oil on the water's surface and, to a lesser degree, into the water below.

U.S. Department of Commerce (DOC)
The agency with responsibility for promoting U.S. economic interests internationally, DOC includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Bureau of Industry and Security, the International Trade Administration, and the National Technical Information Service.

U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)
The U.S. Department of the Interior is the agency responsible for managing federally controlled land and natural resources. The DOI's eight bureaus include the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Minerals Management Service.

U.S. Department of Transportation
The U.S. Department of Transportation promotes a safe and secure transportation system that contributes to the Nation's economic growth. DOT agencies include the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Surface Transportation Board, the Maritime Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The relationships between and among all living things in a given area.

Emergency Response Action Plan
This key element of a facility response plan includes critical information about a facility's ownership, physical layout and decision-making structure, as well as its emergency response personnel and equipment, training programs and evacuation procedures.

The process of forming an emulsion.

A mixture of two liquids, such as oil and water, in which fine droplets of one of the liquids is dispersed in the other.

Environmental Response Team (ERT)
This group of specially trained scientists and engineers within EPA provides expert technical support to Federal On-Scene Coordinators, including sampling and analysis, hazard assessment and cleanup technique assistance.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The federal agency charged with protecting human health and safeguarding the environment. The EPA is chair agency of the National Response Team within the National Response System.

Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI)
Spill responders use this system of maps and charts -- developed and maintained by NOAA -- to identify shorelines, marshes, etc., sensitive to oil pollution. Symbols on the maps indicate wildlife gathering, feeding and/or breeding locations, as well as areas people use for recreation. The system also includes contact information for parks, historic sites, and other facilities.

The physical change of a substance from liquid to vapor form.

Facility Response Plan
A contingency plan outlining how a facility would respond to a discharge of oil - up to and including a Worst-Case Discharge. OPA '90 requires the owner/operator of any facility that could cause "substantial harm" to the environment in the event of a spill to prepare a facility response plan. The plan must contain, among other things, a detailed Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) and assurance that the facility owns, or has access to, the resources necessary to respond to a worst-case spill scenario. These plans must be reviewed and exercised annually, and updated as needed.

Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA)
Commonly referred to as the Clean Water Act, the FWPCA was first enacted in 1956. It was amended by the Water Quality Act of 1965 (FWQA), the Clean Water Restoration Act of 1966, and the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1970 (FWQIA) before being entirely revised by The Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments of 1972. There have been numerous incremental amendments enacted in the years since.

Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC); also, On-Scene Coordinator (OSC)
An FOSC is the lead federal official overseeing the response to an oil spill or hazardous substance release. The FOSC is a designated representative of either the EPA or the USCG, as specified in the applicable Area Contingency Plan. The FOSC coordinates (or directs, if necessary) all containment, removal, and disposal activities during an incident, including federal, state, local, and Responsible Party efforts.

Freshwater spill
An oil spill that occurs in, or affects, a body of fresh water (e.g., a lake or river).

Hazardous Substance
Lists of substances deemed hazardous are included within the Clean Water Act, the Solid Waste Disposal Act, the Clean Air Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act and CERCLA. Neither crude oil nor natural gas is included on these registers, although certain refined petroleum products do appear.

A large class of organic compounds containing only carbon and hydrogen. Hydrocarbons are the primary constituents of oil and natural gas.

Describing the tendency of an object to repel water; hydrophobic material will not absorb water.

Incident Command System (ICS)
The Coast Guard and EPA (and all federal agencies) use this emergency management system - originally developed to combat forest fires -- to promote effective and quick coordination during oil spill responses. Under ICS, each person working on the response team has specific tasks to complete and must follow a predetermined chain of command.

Destruction of a material by burning at high temperature; a process used to safely dispose of certain pollutants or contaminants.

Integrated Contingency Plan (ICP)
Federal guidance, published in 1996 by the National Response Team, that allows facility owners and operators to consolidate the multiple overlapping plans that had been required under previous regulations into a single functional plan.

International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA)
Established in 1974, IPIECA is a voluntary, not-for-profit organization composed of petroleum companies and associations at the national, regional and international levels. IPIECA workgroups address global environmental issues such as oil spill preparedness and response, global climate change, biodiversity, social responsibility, fuel quality and vehicle emissions, and human health. IPIECA also holds formal United Nations status, allowing it access as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) to all UN negotiations where it can represent the views of its members and provide an interface between the petroleum industry and the UN.

International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation (ITOPF)
A not-for-profit organization - funded by ship owners -- that provides a wide range of technical services, most importantly oil spill response. The ITOPF also maintains up-to-date, easily accessed information on the oil spill response arrangements and cleanup resources available in 160 maritime nations.

In-Situ Burn (ISB)
If conditions allow it, burning spilled oil "in-situ" (Latin for "in place") can eliminate large quantities quickly and effectively. An ISB demands little in the way of labor and resources and is especially useful in areas that cannot be reached with other response technologies. However, because burning oil spreads rapidly in water, special fire-resistant booms must be used to contain and concentrate the oil at a sufficient thickness for burning.

Marine (or maritime)
Relating to the seas and oceans.

Marine Spill Response Corporation (MSRC)
MSRC is an independent, non-profit, national spill response company. MSRC offers a large inventory of vessels, equipment, and trained personnel in numerous locations in the continental U.S., Hawaii, and the Caribbean.

A very small plant, animal, or bacteria. Some microorganisms can be damaged by oil spills; however, other types of microorganisms can biodegrade oil into less harmful substances.

Minerals Management Service (MMS)
MMS - part of the U.S. Department of Interior -- has oil spill prevention and response authority for all offshore facilities (except those associated with deep water ports). MMS conducts important spill-related technical research, as well as surprise oil spill drills that test an operator's ability to carry out its response plans.

A slang term given to the thick emulsion of oil and water formed when wind and wave energy act like a mixer on a water-borne oil spill. (In calm conditions, the oil remains in a distinct layer on the water's surface.)

National Contingency Plan (NCP)
The NCP is designed to ensure that federal resources and expertise are available to respond to a significant oil or hazardous substance incident. Officially titled the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan, the NCP is published by the EPA in consultation with the National Response Team.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
NOAA's Office of Response and Restoration staff includes highly trained scientists and other personnel who assist in response planning and, in the event of a spill, support the federal On-Scene Coordinator as Scientific Support Coordinators. NOAA, part of the Department of Commerce, also develops software, databases, and other tools to help people respond to oil and hazardous materials accidents.

National Response Center (NRC)
The NRC, staffed and operated by the Coast Guard, is the communications hub for the 16 federal agencies of the National Response Team. It operates 24 hours a day -- accessible toll-free at (800) 424-8802 - and is the National point of contact for reporting any oil, chemical, radiological, biological or etiological incident/discharge within the United States and its territories. The NRC immediately transmits any incident report to the appropriate FOSC and state and federal agencies. Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NRC is also the designated federal contact point for incidents related to terrorism or possible terrorist activity, including bombings, bomb threats, suspicious letters or packages, and incidents related to the intentional release of chemical/biological/radioactive agents.

National Response System (NRS)
The NRS is a network of federal, state, local, and industry people, teams, and plans is coordinated by the National Response Team. The NRS, through the National Contingency Plan, Area Plans and vessel and facility response plans, combines expertise and resources to ensure that oil spill and hazardous substance spill control and cleanup activities are timely, efficient, and minimize any threat to human health and/or the environment.

National Response Team (NRT)
The NRT - composed of the 16 federal agencies with responsibilities for responding to oil spills and hazardous substance releases - coordinates the National Response System. It is chaired by the U.S. EPA and vice-chaired by the U.S. Coast Guard. The NRT member agencies are: U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Emergency Management Administration, U.S. General Services Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

National Strike Force (NSF)
The NSF is a cadre of Coast Guard professionals armed with specialized emergency management training and equipment. The National Strike Force Coordination Center (NSFCC) is located in Elizabeth City, NC. Three regional strike teams - based in Ft. Dix, NJ, Mobile, AL, and Novato, CA -- can be activated to assist and support Federal On-Scene Coordinators and any other federal agencies preparing for, or responding to, oil and/or hazardous substance pollution incidents. The NSFCC is also home base for the Coast Guard's Public Information Assist Team.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)
This is the first step in a process designed to (1) restore coastal and marine resources that have been damaged by an oil spill or hazardous substance release; and, (2) obtain compensation for the public's lost use and enjoyment of the damaged resources. The Department of the Interior and NOAA oversee NRDA activities at the federal level.

Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (NEBA)
Spill-response activities inevitably have environmental impacts of their own. (For example, equipment must sometimes be brought into fragile ecosystems or new microorganisms or chemicals are introduced into the environment.) NEBA calculates the gains that can be expected from a given response strategy - e.g., the amount of oil removed, improvements to the ecosystem, etc. - minus the environmental injuries caused by the spill and response activities. This analytical tool allows spill-response managers to weigh the comparative effectiveness of -- and trade-offs associated with -- all available spill response options, including the "no action" or "natural biodegradation" options.

Office of Pipeline Safety
This office within the U.S. Department of Transportation has responsibility for implementing the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 as it applies to onshore oil pipelines.

Oil and Hazardous Materials Simulated Environmental Test Tank (OHMSETT)
This equipment test facility is operated by the Minerals Management Service's Oil Spill Response Research (OSRR) Program, and funded by the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

Within the context of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, "oil" means oil of any kind or in any form, including petroleum, fuel oil, sludge, oil refuse, and oil mixed with wastes other than dredged spoil. To avoid overlapping (and potentially conflicting) regulations, the OPA '90 definition excludes any oil-related substance already covered by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.

Oil slick
A visible layer of oil floating on the surface of water.

Describing a material that has a strong affinity for oils; oil will readily adhere, or stick to, an oleophilic material.

Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA '90; also, OPA)
OPA '90 amended the Federal Water Pollution Control Act with new provisions aimed at both (1) reducing the number of incidents releasing oil and/or hazardous substances into the environment and (2) limiting the amount released during those incidents. The law requires the owners or operators of tank vessels, offshore facilities, and onshore facilities to prepare and implement response plans for a "Worst-Case Discharge" of oil or a hazardous substance. Each of these plans must be compatible with the National Contingency Plan and National Response System, and identify a representative of the owner or operator (i.e. Qualified Individual) available 24-hours-a-day in the event of an accidental release. OPA '90 also created the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund to ensure adequate resources for spill response.

Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF; also, the Fund)
Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, the owner or operator of a facility from which oil is discharged (also known as the responsible party) is liable for the costs associated with the containment and cleanup of the spill and any damages resulting from the spill. However, when the responsible party is unknown or refuses to pay, funds from the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund can be used to cover removal costs or damages resulting from discharge of oil. The primary source of revenue for the Fund was a five-cents per barrel fee on imported and domestic oil collected through 1994. Other revenue sources for the Fund include interest on the Fund and costs, and fines or civil penalties collected from responsible parties. The U.S. Coast Guard's National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) administers the Fund.

Oil Spill Removal Organization (OSRO)
These private organizations own, maintain and operate spill response teams and equipment. Vessel and facility owners/operators contract with OSROs to provide the response resources required for their vessel and facility response plans. The Coast Guard maintains a list of OSROs classified by their location and capabilities, but the vessel or facility owner/operator bears ultimate responsibility for ensuring that their contractor has the resources needed to respond to a worst-case spill.

This chemical reaction, which occurs when a substance is combined with oxygen, leads to degradation or deterioration of the substance. For example, rust results from iron being oxidized.

Public Information Assist Team (PIAT)
This unit of public affairs specialists, based at the Coast Guard's National Strike Force Coordination Center, is on call to complement the public information efforts of Federal On-Scene Coordinators during spill response activities.

Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs)
Vapors from this family of chemical substances, found in many types of oil, can be harmful to humans and animals when inhaled.

Preparedness for Response Exercise Program (PREP)
The PREP (or just PREP) was developed in conjunction with owner/operators to test the effectiveness of their facility response plans and/or vessel response plans. The program is continually reviewed (and updated, as necessary) to incorporate new information, procedures and best practices, etc.

Prevention Through People (PTP)
This Coast Guard outreach program addresses the role of human error in spills and other types of emergency incidents. PTP promotes cultural changes within participating organizations to foster a "do it right" mindset.

Qualified Individual (QI)
A person designated by an owner/operator (and listed in the applicable facility response plan or vessel response plan) to be available 24 hours a day to authorize and initiate spill response activities. OPA '90 requires that this person (or his or her alternate) must (1) speak fluent English; (2) be located in the US; (3) be familiar with the implementation of the response plan; and (4) be trained in the responsibilities of the QI as laid out in the response plan.

Those activities undertaken by oil spill response personnel to remove spilled oil by physical, chemical, or other means.

Reportable Quantity (RQ)
The minimum amount of a hazardous substance spilled or released that, because it may be harmful to the environment or to public health or welfare, must be reported to the federal government (usually through the National Response Center).

Responsible Party (RP)
Under law, the spiller (i.e., the owner/operator of the vessel or facility involved) is responsible for conducting spill cleanup activities according to the procedures laid out in the vessel response plan or facility response plan.

Regional Response Team (RRT)
RRTs are planning, policy, and coordinating bodies composed of representatives from the field offices of National Response Team agencies, as well as representatives from appropriate state agencies. There are 13 RRTs -- one for each of the 10 EPA Regions, plus one each for Alaska, the Caribbean and the Pacific Basin - overseeing a series of Regional Contingency Plans. RRT members also are available to assist a Federal On-Scene Coordinator during a spill response.

Standard After Action Information and Lessons Learned System (SAILS)
Spill response expertise is constantly evolving, as feedback and lessons learned from individual incidents and training exercises are used to advance the state of the art. The Coast Guard maintains the SAILS database to collect and distribute practical knowledge. The SAILS bulletin board provides a way to share meaningful information to improve responses and design better exercises.

Scientific Support Coordinators (SSC)
These technical experts from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) assist Federal On-Scene Coordinators in coastal and marine areas. SSC areas of expertise include environmental chemistry, oil slick tracking and pollutant transport modeling, and assessing the natural resources impacts of various response options.

Shoreline Cleanup Assessment Team (SCAT)
This team of oil-spill response personnel surveys areas affected by an oil spill to determine appropriate response activities.

These mechanical devices remove spilled oil by skimming it from the water's surface.

Special Monitoring of Applied Response Technologies (SMART)
This monitoring program for in-situ burns and dispersant applications is a joint project of NOAA, USCG, EPA, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and MMS. SMART deploys small, highly mobile teams to collect real-time data -- using portable, rugged, and easy-to-use instruments - that is channeled to the Unified Command.

Spill of National Significance (SONS)
Most spill incidents are adequately addressed at the local level, following the appropriate facility response plan or vessel response plan. If the Federal On-Scene Coordinator believes additional resources are needed, they are available through the applicable Area Contingency Plan and Regional Response Plan. In rare cases, a catastrophic spill or discharge may exceed the response capabilities available at the local and regional levels. In these instances, the EPA (inland incidents) or Coast Guard (coastal incidents) may declare a SONS. This declaration activates the National Response Team to direct spill response activities.

Sorbents; also, absorbents
These substances absorb and hold fluids or liquids. Sorbents used to help remove oil spills are made from oleophilic materials.

Specific gravity
Specifies the density of a substance relative to water. Substances with a specific gravity greater than 1 are more dense than water and will sink; substances with a specific gravity less than 1 are less dense than water and will float.

Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC)
This is the title of EPA's Oil Pollution Prevention regulations under the Clean Water Act, covering not only facility response plans, but proactive spill prevention and containment activities as well. This rule, updated in 2002, requires regulated facilities to submit SPCC Plans - including site maps, contact lists and a complete discussion of spill prevention and control measures in place -- to the EPA.

State On-Scene Coordinator (SOSC)
States agencies are key players in oil spill response activities and may assign response management personnel similar to the FOSC to coordinate or direct state spill response efforts. State regulations pertaining to spill removal activities may exceed those of the federal government, as allowed by OPA '90.

Surface tension
When the molecules below the surface of a liquid exert an attraction on the molecules on the surface, those surface molecules behave like an elastic membrane allowing the liquid to hold its shape (think of a drop of water or a soap bubble). When oil is spilled on water, its surface tension makes the oil behave as a continuous thin film that requires energy input to separate or break up.

These are products, such as detergents or dispersants, that are added to a liquid to reduce its surface tension, allowing it to flow more freely. A surfactant sprayed on an oil slick will cause it to spread and break up into smaller pieces that are more readily biodegraded (also, weathered) into less toxic or less hazardous materials.

Tar balls
These are dense, black, sticky "globs" of weathered/biodegraded oil.

Trajectory Modeling/Analysis
Mathematical models and computer analysis can be used to predict (forecast) how wind, tides and currents will affect the spread and travel of oil spilled on the water. Modeling can also be used to track down the original source of oil found on a beach or in the water, a practice called "hindcasting."

Unified Command (UC)
Under the Incident Command System, a single Incident Commander normally manages the Command function. But, because federal, state, and Responsible Party officials share the goal of safe, rapid, and effective spill cleanup, they may establish a Unified Command that integrates the Incident Commanders of all major organizations involved in the incident response. Once a Unified Command is formed, responders from all parties engage in a response effort coordinated through a jointly developed Incident Action Plan that is adjusted to meet the changing conditions of weather, spill size, spill location, etc.

U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
The USCG is a multi-function maritime service and is one of the nation's five Armed Services. Formerly an agency within the Department of Transportation, the USCG is now part of the Department of Homeland Security. The USCG's mission is to protect the public, the environment, and U.S. economic interests in the Nation's ports and waterways, along the coast, on international waters, or in any maritime region as required to support national security. In its spill prevention/response capacity, the Coast Guard is vice-chair of the National Response Team and operates the National Response Center and the National Strike Force.

Vessel Response Plan (VRP)
A contingency plan prepared by a vessel owner or operator in accordance with federal regulations. OPA '90 requires that all vessels operating in U.S. waters develop and implement plans consistent with the National Contigency Plan to respond to a worst-case spill scenario. These plans must be submitted to the Coast Guard, reviewed and exercised annually, and updated as needed. Each vessel owner/operator must also demonstrate that sufficient resources are available (usually via insurance and contracts with oil spill response organizations) for spill response.

This is the resistance of a liquid to flow. Common examples of viscous liquids include syrup, honey and heavy crude oil.

Visible sheen
If a spill results in visible sheen of oil on the water, or deposits a sludge or emulsion on adjacent shorelines, that spill must, by federal law, be reported immediately to the National Response Center.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
This family of chemical compounds is found in some petroleum products. VOCs evaporate quickly but, if inhaled in sufficient quantities, can cause nerve damage and behavioral abnormalities in mammals.

Water column
An imaginary cylinder of water that extends from the surface to the bottom of a given body of water. Water conditions -- including temperature, pressure, and density -- vary throughout the column.

The effects of wind, waves, sunlight and temperature that help biodegrade/disintegrate/deteriorate a substance.

A kind of dam, a weir is used to control the flow of water. A weir-type oil skimmer includes an underwater barrier that lets oil on the water's surface flow into the skimmer while holding back the water on which the oil is floating.