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Preparing for Offshore Drilling in Cuba and the Bahamas

April 24, 2012
image showing New Orleans barge collision oil spill

In 2008, NOAA supported response efforts to the New Orleans Barge Collision Oil Spill.

As offshore oil drilling activity grows in the Florida Straits and off of the Bahamas, a new study from NOAA in support of the U.S. Coast Guard examines potential threats from future spills.

The study focuses on modeling the surface movement of oil in water to determine the likelihood of oil reaching U.S. shores given a spill in this region of the ocean.

Models help to determine the threat to our coasts from a potential spill by accounting for many different variables, such as the weathering processes of evaporation, dispersion, photo-oxidation, and biodegradation – all of which reduce the amount of oil in the water over time.

Currents and winds also play a role in determining where oil will move in water. For example, there are three major currents that would dominate movement of spilled oil near the Florida straits: Loop Current, Florida Current, and the Gulf Stream.

NOAA’s Mandate

While the U.S. Coast Guard is the lead for managing oil spill response and clean-up activities in the coastal zone, NOAA is charged with delivering technical and scientific expertise to the U.S. Coast Guard throughout a spill response.

NOAA has three critical roles in spill response and damage assessment mandated by the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the National Contingency Plan.

Be Prepared

There are thousands of incidents each year in which oil or chemicals are released into the environment as a result of accidents or natural disasters. Spills into our coastal waters, whether accidental or intentional, can harm people and the environment and cause substantial disruption of marine transportation with potential widespread economic impacts.

NOAA will continue to work with state and federal partners, the oil industry, and the international community to provide cutting edge science to support a robust and effective planning process to ensure that the U.S. is as prepared as possible, should a spill occur in this region.