The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) works to prevent and mitigate harm to coastal resources. It is the primary NOAA office that responds to oil spills and hazardous material releases. OR&R also works with federal, state, and tribal natural resource trustees to restore damaged coastal resources.
OR&R highlights from fiscal year 2010 include:
- Spill of National Significance Drill 2010
In March, OR&R participated in the Spill of National Significance (SONS) drill that took place in Portland, ME; Boston, MA; and Washington, D.C. Inspired by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, SONS is a major, multi-agency exercise that takes place once every three years. SONS tests and sharpens the nation's ability to respond effectively to spills that require extraordinary coordination of federal, state, local, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up.
This year’s exercise centered on a simulated tanker collision off the coast of Portland, ME, resulting in a major oil spill that impacted shorelines in southern Maine and New Hampshire in the first 48 hours and continued moving south, threatening shoreline and marine resources in Massachusetts. OR&R staff were involved on scene in Portland, ME, at the Unified Area Command in Maynard, MA, and at the National Incident Command in Washington, DC. OR&R provided scientific support including trajectory and oil behavior modeling, information on natural resources at risk, and toxicity assessment data, and also successfully conducted preliminary natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) activities and implemented protocols and products developed as a result of the Field Assessment and Support Techniques (FAST) initiative.
- Ceremony to Mark Beginning of Construction on Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center
On January 22, NOAA marked the start of construction on its Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) with a groundbreaking ceremony at the site of construction in Mobile, AL. The ceremony marked the start of construction on a 15,000-square foot facility capable of withstanding a major hurricane and devoted to conserving energy, water, and natural resources while reducing impacts on human health and the environment. Through the DRC, NOAA will be able to consolidate its Gulf Region disaster preparedness, response, and recovery efforts under one roof and better address the needs of emergency management communities from Brownsville, TX, to Key West, FL. Dr. Jane Lubchenco, Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere and NOAA Administrator, addressed the group to begin the ceremony.
- OR&R Aids T/V Eagle Otome Oil Spill Response
OR&R staff responded to a major oil spill that occurred on January 23, near Port Arthur, TX. Approximately 424,000 gallons of crude oil were spilled when the towing vessel Dixie Vengeance and the two barges it was pushing, collided with the 807-foot tank ship Eagle Otome. As a result of the collision, the Eagle Otome sustained damage in the vicinity of the number one starboard tank and began spilling oil. OR&R provided scientific support to the U.S. Coast Guard's response efforts, including predicting where the oil was going and its effects, identifying resources at risk, providing weather forecasts, planning for shoreline cleanup and oil delineation, and participating in overflights. OR&R scientists coordinated with other state and federal trustees to begin to assess injuries to natural resources and lost human uses, and ultimately plan for restoration. In the following weeks, OR&R and the Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services assisted the U.S. Coast Guard with their efforts to determine the reopening of the Sabine-Neches Waterway, which had been closed following the spill.
- NOAA and Co-Trustees Release Plan for Restoration of Wetlands in Bayou Verdine, Louisiana
NOAA and co-trustees released a plan in the spring of 2010 to enhance 247 acres of critical coastal wetlands and create an additional 14.7 acres in western Louisiana. The Final Damage Assessment and Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment (Final DARP) for Bayou Verdine, Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana has been approved by NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Louisiana’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (trustees), and is now available to the public. The Final DARP selects a restoration project – the Sabine Unit 1999 Project – for use to compensate for natural resource injuries and service losses in the upper Calcasieu Estuary caused by past releases of hazardous substances from two facilities presently owned and operated by ConocoPhillips Company and Sasol North America Inc., situated along Bayou Verdine. The trustees’ assessment of these injuries and losses is presented in the Final DARP.
- NOAA Hosted Arctic Oil Spill Assessment Workshop
In April, NOAA and the Coastal Response Research Center in cooperation with the Oil Spill Recovery Institute sponsored a workshop in Anchorage, beginning initial discussions regarding natural resource damage assessment in the Arctic. As the potential for oil spills in the Arctic grow, due to predicted increases in ship traffic and oil exploration, NOAA recognizes the need to improve America’s ability to assess the long-term impacts of spills and the best ways to restore the environment. The immediate goal of this workshop was to initiate a dialogue among natural resource damage assessment practitioners and Arctic scientists that will identify the most significant data gaps in our understanding of the ecologies of resources potentially at risk from oil released into Alaskan Arctic waters.
- Funds Released to Restore San Pablo Bay Marshlands
On March 18, a consent decree between the United States, the State of California, and Chevron USA, Inc., was entered in U.S. District Court for Northern California, completing the natural resource damage assessment settlement for the Chevron Castro Cove case. Under the terms of the settlement Chevron agreed to pay $2.85 million in damages, which will be used by the natural resource trustees (State of California, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and NOAA) to restore habitats injured by chronic release of hazardous substances from the Chevron facility located in Richmond in Contra Costa County.
A portion of this settlement will be used to provide funding needed for the tidal wetland restoration of the 1,500 acre Cullinan Ranch parcel, a part of the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Additional funds will be made available by the trustees to East Bay Regional Park District (EBRPD) to help restore at least 30 acres – and possibly as much as 45 acres – of tidal habitat in a planned Breuner Marsh restoration project in north Richmond. The settlement funds will be leveraged by $1 million to $2 million in matching funds by EBRPD. The two restoration projects are designed to restore habitats equivalent to those injured by the long-term wastewater discharge and resulting sediment contamination from the Chevron refinery into Castro Cove.
- Fuel Removed from Sunken USS Chehalis Wreck in American Samoa
OR&R's Emergency Response Division and the National Weather Service provided support for salvage operations conducted on the sunken USS Chehalis in Pago Pago Harbor, American Samoa the week of April 4. Approximately 55,564 gallons of aviation fuel and 1,269 gallons of diesel fuel were removed from the wreck by the U.S. Navy Supervisor of Salvage and the U.S. Navy Mobile Underwater Diving Salvage Unit out of Honolulu, with logistical support from the U.S. Coast Guard. The fuel was transported by barge to California and then via rail to Kansas City, where it will be used at a concrete manufacturing plant. The USS Chehalis suffered an explosion, burned, and sank in October 1949 while off-loading gasoline in Pago Pago Harbor. The ship reportedly has been periodically releasing small amounts of oil ever since it sank.
- Adak Petroleum Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment Conducted
On January 11, approximately 142,000 gallons of #2 diesel fuel was released from a 4.8 million gallon underground tank at the Adak Petroleum Bulk Fuel facility on Adak Island in the central Aleutian Islands of Alaska. Fuel was being transferred from a tanker at the adjacent loading dock, when the tank was overfilled. The containment sump unit was overwhelmed and the fuel entered Helmet Creek which flows into the small boat harbor in the Port of Adak. Most of the diesel was confined to the creek and possibly more than a thousand gallons flowed out to Sweeper Cove.
The creek serves as spawning habitat for resident Dolly Varden trout, and has supported a robust population of pink salmon. Sea otters and a variety of birds use the harbor and adjacent area. Response activities included placing boom across the mouth of the stream and harbor, and collecting diesel and emulsified fuel from the shoreline of the harbor and from the surface waters of the creek and harbor. Soil contamination at the release site and along the creek banks was evaluated.
- Emergency Restoration of Corals Injured in Ship Grounding in Puerto Rico
In 2010, NOAA’s Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program along with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico (trustees) and the responsible party conducted emergency restoration of corals injured in the October 27, 2009 grounding of the T/V Port Stewart, which struck coral reef habitat off the southeast shore of Puerto Rico near the entrance to Yabucoa Channel. During vessel removal, another section of reef to the south was also impacted. The grounding, subsequent vessel movement, and actions undertaken to prevent a significant oil spill from the cargo fuel resulted in substantial reef injury. Injuries included fractured and crushed hard corals, dislodged hard and soft corals, areas of scraped and pulverized bottom, and patches of anti-fouling paint. This caused or contributed to a loss of habitat and biota over slightly more than 500 square meters (5,382 square feet) of sea floor (estimated). The trustees worked with the responsible party’s representatives to salvage, flip, and cache injured corals that were still viable. In caching the corals, divers collect injured corals and place them in locations where they will be temporarily safe from the abrasive forces associated with normal waves and currents until the corals can be reattached to the reef at a later time.
NOAA Marine Debris Program
- Research and Solutions for Microplastic Marine Debris
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is leading efforts within NOAA on the emerging issue of microplastic (less than or equal to five millimeters) marine debris. Standardized field methods for collecting sediment, sand, and surface water microplastic samples are in development and are undergoing further testing in the Chesapeake Bay and Puget Sound, in partnership with the University of Washington Tacoma. This project, funded through the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean, seeks to determine a relatively simple, cost-effective, and unbiased laboratory method to estimate the quantity of three plastics (polyethylene, polypropylene, and polyvinylchloride) in environmental samples as well as in common personal care products. Eventually these field and laboratory protocols will allow for global comparisons of the amount of microplastics released into the environment, which is the first step in determining their final distribution, impacts, and fate. In addition to the method development, the MDP recently participated in an international workshop on microplastics led by the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Pollution that convened in order to advise the United Nations on further research and engagement on this emerging issue.
- Monitoring and Assessment of Marine Debris
The NOAA Marine Debris Program is developing a long-term monitoring and assessment study with standardized, statistically valid methodologies that focus on abundance and density of marine debris. In fiscal year 2010, survey methods based on preliminary testing were presented at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry North American meeting and the Citizen Science Summit on Plastic Pollution in the Salish Sea hosted by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. MDP also served on a science panel at the Citizen Science Summit to assist the Center and volunteers in determining the next phase of their plastics monitoring project. The MDP developed a volunteer visual survey data sheet with experts in the area of marine debris research at sea. These will be used by volunteers interested in documenting marine debris. Additionally, surface water and shoreline methods continue to be tested in the Chesapeake Bay in collaboration with the NOAA Oxford Laboratory.
- The Cost of Marine Debris to Fisheries
In the North Pacific Ocean, derelict fishing gear (mainly lost or discarded nets from other fishing fleets) is often found drifting within areas heavily fished by Hawaii’s longline fleet. Derelict fishing gear (DFG) impacts the longline fishery through active gear entanglement, vessel interactions, and catch interaction. The debris poses a safety hazard for crew (for instance, disentangling a fouled propeller) and harms the fishery economically by immobilizing or slowing fishing operations. In February, the NOAA Marine Debris Program and National Observer Program signed a Memorandum of Understanding for a project to gather information on the incidence of at-sea marine debris encounters by various fisheries. Also in 2010, the first regional agreement to undertake this project was formalized in the Pacific Islands Region between the NOAA Pacific Islands Regional Office (PIRO) Observer Program, NOAA MDP, NOAA PIRO Habitat Conservation Program, and NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.