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What is a Natural Resource Damage Assessment?

The Natural Resource Damage Assessment process evaluates and restores wildlife, habitats, and human resources impacted by oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and vessel groundings.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

An oiled shoreline in Barataria Bay, Louisiana.

Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is the legal process that federal agencies like NOAA, together with the states and Indian tribes, use to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, hazardous waste sites, and ship groundings on natural resources both along the nation's coast and throughout its interior.

NOAA and these partners, referred to collectively as natural resource trustees, work together to identify the extent of natural resource injuries, the best methods for restoring them, and the type and amount of restoration required. In addition to studying impacts to the environment, the NRDA process includes assessing and restoring the public's lost use of injured natural resources (e.g., closed recreational fishing or swimming).

NOAA's responsibilities in a NRDA include:

  • A preliminary assessment to determine whether any impacts have occurred. Scientists may collect data, review scientific literature, and use mathematical models to help predict the effects of the incident on trust resources.
  • Injury assessment and restoration planning, during which the trustees quantify the injuries through scientific and economic studies and then identify potential restoration projects to offset the loss(e.g., beach and shoreline enhancements, creation of oyster reefs or other shellfish habitats, and programs to monitor the recovery of species and habitats). A restoration plan is then released for public feedback.
  • Restoration aims to return the injured resources to their original condition and compensate the public for interim losses, i.e., the time it takes the resources to recover, as well as humans' lost use of the resources. Throughout the NRDA process, the co-trustees oftenwork with the Responsible Party (the entity whose property or actions caused the injury). The Responsible Party pays for the assessment and restoration and may participate in restoration activities.

In the event that the Responsible Party refuses to pay damages, NOAA and its co-trustees may file a lawsuit or in the case of an oil spill, submit a claim to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.