Oil Spill Response Planning

The responsibility for spill prevention and environmental protection is shared by every individual and business that produces, transports, or uses a potentially hazardous material. Commitment and coordination are keys to success, and, as such, are the centerpieces of the National Contingency Plan and the National Response System.

These models for emergency planning and response have been internationally recognized, and link every community in the United States to a network of resources and expertise aimed at protecting our families and our environment from the accidental release of hazardous materials, whether by human error, mechanical failure, or forces of nature.

Net Environmental Benefit Analysis (NEBA)

NEBA is a process used by the response community for making the best choices to minimize impacts of oil spills on people and the environment.

In planning, responders define potential spill scenarios for a particular location. Once these scenarios are defined, potentially impacted environmental and community assets are identified and prioritized. NEBA is then used to balance the tradeoffs and select the appropriate response options that will minimize a potential spill’s impact on these assets.

In NEBA, the response community evaluates the safety issues, societal impacts, and environmental considerations of a potential spill and its impacts in order to choose the optimal response tools from the full spectrum of the response toolkit. 

Area Contingency Plan

Responding to and cleaning up any spill is the legal obligation of the spiller, or responsible party. The operator of every potential spill source (e.g., a tanker ship, a pipeline, a refinery, etc.) must now demonstrate, in a formal response plan, that it has the systems and the resources in place to act quickly and effectively in the event of a spill.

Because spill response and cleanup is a specialized skill, many vessel and facility owners will contract with private response and cleanup organizations to supplement their in-house capabilities. These contracted capabilities are included within the response plan.

Local governments, especially emergency response agencies, are integral parts of this site-specific response planning. A Federal On-Scene Coordinator (the local representative of the National Response System) compiles community- and site-specific Response Plans into an Area Contingency Plan. Within the National Response System, area plans are compiled into regional plans that, in turn, are integrated into a National Contingency Plan.

National Response System

The strength of the National Response System lies in its integrated structure. It clearly defines the responsibilities when responding to spill situations, yet allows sufficient flexibility to tailor spill response to the special circumstances of a given incident.

There are 16 federal agencies with oversight on spill-related issues, and all are represented on the National Response Team. Each agency has offices throughout the United States that participate in Regional Response Teams (RRTs) along with the relevant state agencies. The RRTs review Area Contingency Plans annually and identify any supplemental resources required to produce an effective regional plan.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Coast Guard lead federal involvement in the National Response System. At the local level, a representative from one of these agencies is designated as a Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC).

The FOSC coordinates resources between local authorities and state and Federal governments. In the event of a spill, the FOSC monitors the responsible party's cleanup activities. If the responsible party is unwilling or unable to adequately address the situation, the FOSC has the authority to step in and assume command of spill response efforts. Additionally, the FOSC has immediate and authorized access to the full scope of expertise and resources within the National Response System.