During Arctic Shield 2013, scientists traveled to the edge of Arctic sea ice to demonstrate potential oil spill response technologies.
As Arctic sea ice continues to decline, energy exploration and ship traffic are expected to increase in the region, therefore escalating the risk of maritime incidents including oil spills. The Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) and interagency partners are actively preparing for these possible emergencies. In 2013, OR&R increased staff, tools, and partnerships with local communities and stakeholders to better respond to potential hazards in the Arctic. With the addition of a second Scientific Support Coordinator for Alaska, OR&R can now better support oil spill preparedness, planning, and response efforts statewide.
As chair of the Oil Spill Recovery Institute, OR&R is also improving the best available tools and techniques for spill response. To support response efforts, OR&R, in partnership with the Department of Interior's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, developed a stand-alone version of the Arctic Environmental Response Management Application (ERMA®). Arctic ERMA® is a geospatial mapping tool that does not require internet access, making it a critical resource for spill response in remote areas. In summer 2013, OR&R tested this new tool on board the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy during oil spill exercise operations in the Arctic. In addition, Environment Canada and OR&R identified priority Canadian datasets to include in Arctic ERMA®. This data combined with other information from the Arctic Council have closed information gaps, helping to advance this response tool. All the while, OR&R has provided opportunities to share knowledge between Arctic communities and the federal government through community workshops, such as one held in Barrow last fall.
Restoration projects for the St. Lawrence River environment will benefit natural and cultural resources as well as increase the public’s ability to boat, fish, and view wildlife.
In March, a $19.4 million settlement with Alcoa Inc. and Reynolds Metals Company was reached. The majority of the funds will go towards the restoration of natural and St. Regis Mohawk tribal cultural resources as well as for access to recreational fishing injured due to the release of hazardous substances from industrial plants into the St. Lawrence River environment near Massena, N.Y. and adjacent to Mohawk lands.
The Office of Response and Restoration, through NOAA's Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program, worked with natural resource co-trustees on a Natural Resource Damage Assessment to determine injury to the environment, reach the settlement, and develop a restoration plan. The trustees will continue to work together on projects to protect and restore the iconic St. Lawrence River environment that includes acquiring land; restoring or enhancing wetlands, uplands, stream banks, and fisheries; creating and funding programs that promote Mohawk culture and language; and constructing and upgrading shoreline and boat access to fishing.
In 2013, the DRC hosted 27 trainings, classes, and workshops, which were run by agencies including the U.S. Coast Guard Gulf Strike Team and Mobile County Emergency Management Agency.
NOAA responds before, during, and after disasters, from forecasting the paths of hurricanes to restoring the environment after an oil spill. Until recently, however, there was no central hub in the Gulf of Mexico to assist with regional coordination of NOAA's all-hazards capabilities. A year after its grand opening, the Gulf of Mexico Disaster Response Center (DRC) has established an unprecedented regional presence as well as expanded the federal capacity to plan for and respond to hazards.
This year, the DRC welcomed emergency responders from local, state, and federal agencies to its facility for several planning and training activities. The DRC is now home to staff from multiple NOAA offices, helping to build a collaborative environment for preparedness, response, recovery, and resiliency efforts. The new facility not only includes offices and conference rooms, but also a large multifunction space which can be used for trainings, meetings, drills, and emergency response operations. With this capacity, the DRC is positioned to respond in times of need. For example, after Hurricane Isaac, the DRC was used to pre-position U.S. Coast Guard assets to higher ground and provided a work environment to assist staff from the Federal Emergency Management Agency during recovery efforts. During periods between emergencies, the DRC hosts trainings and workshops in an effort to build a better response capacity.
In July, the Office of Response and Restoration's Marine Debris Program (MDP) launched the Marine Debris Clearinghouse, an online resource for the national and international marine debris community to discover, explore, and apply knowledge on marine debris activities. The site, developed in partnership with NOAA’s National Coastal Data Development Center and based on feedback from key partners, provides users with access to current, future, and historical projects of the MDP and its funded partners. The site's sophisticated search function allows users to query specific project data, such as date and description, location, or marine debris type.
While the clearinghouse is designed to be accessible and intuitive to the public, the site is focused on providing information that can be applied by the active marine debris community. In this online resource, users will find similar efforts and lessons learned. In the future, the clearinghouse will grow to include a library of resources such as best practices, regional action plans, technical documents, and papers that discuss key findings and knowledge gaps in marine debris research and operations.
The drilling ship Kulluk, aground near Kodiak, Alaska in January 2013 (Image credit: U.S. Coast Guard).
In 2013, the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R) responded to more than 138 oil spills, chemical releases, and other threats, including the freight train derailment in Paulsboro, N.J., and the Shell Drill Rig Kulluk grounding in the Gulf of Alaska. OR&R continues to refine their products, tools, and scientific support expertise to better support response to an expanding range of environmental hazards.
This year, OR&R made significant improvements to several of the tools that America's response community depends on to make decisions during an emergency. In partnership with Dow Chemical, OR&R released a new version to the Chemical Reactivity Worksheet, which has been downloaded approximately 200-300 times per day since its release in March.
OR&R has also made major improvements to other web-based resources, including an update to the Levels of Concern in the Areal Locations of Hazardous Atmospheres (ALOHA) program, CAMEO Chemicals database, and integrating new oceanographic models into the General NOAA Operational Modeling Environment (GNOME). OR&R has not only improved these tools, but also continues to teach others how to use them. In 2013, OR&R participated in 17 drills and conducted 49 trainings for federal, state, local, and international responders, increasing scientific awareness and improving capabilities within the response community.