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30th anniversary of the Oil Pollution Act; 15 years since Hurricane Katrina

20 August 2020

This week marks two significant commemorative dates for two major historical events: the 30th anniversary of the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA), and 15 years since Hurricane Katrina — one of the five deadliest hurricanes to strike the U.S.

The OPA was enacted by Congress on August 18, 1990, in response to the March 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. The Exxon Valdez tanker went aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of crude oil into the waters there. The massive spill eventually impacted more than 1,100 miles of non-continuous coastline in Alaska. It was the largest oil spill in U.S. waters at the time. The OPA was enacted to significantly improve measures to prevent, prepare for, and respond to oil spills in U.S. waters. Follow the National Ocean Service’s Office of Response and Restoration’s (OR&R) Facebook and Twitter pages for blogs, story maps, and more, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the OPA.

Fifteen years later, on the evening of August 23, 2005, a tropical depression began to organize over the central Bahamas; that storm intensified into what would become Hurricane Katrina. After reaching Category 5 intensity over the central Gulf of Mexico, Katrina weakened to a Category 3 hurricane before making landfall on the northern Gulf coast. Although the hurricane weakened in intensity, damage and loss of life inflicted by the hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi were staggering, with significant effects extending into the Florida panhandle, Georgia, and Alabama. In Louisiana, the hardest hit of the states, over 1,000 people lost their lives. My family is from New Orleans, and I was personally devastated to see what this storm did to such a special place.

Fortunately, since Exxon Valdez and Katrina, NOAA and the scientific community as a whole has made great strides in improving oil spill response, and understanding and predicting hurricanes. OR&R maintains a suite of data and visualization tools to help oil spill responders and planners gather data as quickly as possible in the event of an oil spill. NOAA’s U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS®) synthesizes data from satellites, buoys, tide gauges, radar stations, and underwater vehicles, to provide sustained and targeted ocean observations. These observations help scientists to quickly find information to track and predict hurricanes.

Remembering and reflecting on these events are important. They remind us of the vital work that we at NOS do to provide high quality products and services that protect our economy, the environment, and U.S. citizens.

Steady as we go,

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator (Acting)
Ocean Services and Coastal Zone Management,
National Ocean Service
Assistant Administrator (Actg.) Portrait

Nicole R. LeBoeuf
Assistant Administrator (Acting), National Ocean Service

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