Posted at 11:54 AM
The 1976 grounding of the tanker Argo Merchant off the coast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts, with its subsequent oil spill, was the genesis for NOAA’s Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R).
This week, OR&R has launched an online outreach campaign on the 40 years following Argo Merchant. In a series of stories, the office highlights the history of emergency oil spill response and assessment, the advances that have been made, and what a response would look like if Argo Merchant ran aground today.
When the tanker spilled nearly 8 million gallons of oil into Nantucket Shoals on December 15, 1976, it was the largest marine oil spill in U.S. waters at that time. The U.S. Coast Guard responded to the disaster, quickly calling in NOAA’s newly formed Spilled Oil Research Team to serve as its scientific advisor and unofficial liaison with the scientific community.
As a result of that collaboration, NOAA formed the Hazardous Material Response Division, now OR&R’s Emergency Response Division. Scientific Support Coordinators were strategically located across the country. The Emergency Response Division now represents NOAA as the primary scientific support during oil and hazardous chemical spills as indicated in the National Contingency Plan. It also provides annual trainings to prepare government and industry responders and planners for future spills.
In the wake of Argo Merchant, trajectory and fate modeling programs were developed to further assist the U.S. Coast Guard with spill response. OR&R currently has a suite of preparedness, response and assessment tools for oil spills and chemical spills to support responders and planners.
NOAA also created standard methods for damage assessment after oil spills following the Argo Merchant grounding, activities now carried out by OR&R’s Assessment and Restoration Division. Today, the Assessment and Restoration Division provides environmental protection during cleanup and conducts Natural Resource Damage Assessments. It is also a partner in the Damage Assessment, Remediation and Restoration Program, a collaboration among OR&R, NOAA General Counsel, and the National Marine Fisheries Restoration Center.
OR&R will explore changes in regulations that have resulted in safer tankers and establish guidelines for identifying parties responsible for cleaning up after a spill and restoring the environment. Keeping America’s coastlines clean from oil and chemical contamination helps ensure the health of both commercial and recreational fisheries.