Submersed oil sampling gear ready to be deployed.

Submersed oil sampling gear ready to be deployed.

How Natural Resource Damage Assessment Works

The Oil Pollution Act authorizes certain federal agencies, states, and Indian tribes—collectively known as natural resource trustees—to evaluate the impacts of oil spills, ship groundings, and hazardous substance releases on natural resources.

These trustees are responsible for studying the effects of the spill through a process known as Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). As part of this process, scientists work together with the responsible party to identify potential injuries to natural resources and lost public uses resulting from the spill.

After an oil spill or hazardous substance release, response agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or the U.S. Coast Guard clean up the substance and eliminate or reduce risks to human health and the environment. But these efforts may not fully restore injured natural resources or address their lost uses by the public.

Through the NRDA process, NOAA and other trustees conduct studies to identify the extent of resource injuries, the best methods for restoring those resources, and the type and amount of restoration required.

NOAA conducts the following three steps in an NRDA:

Assessing Injuries Takes Time

The concept of assessing injuries may sound simple, but understanding complex ecosystems, the services they provide, and the impacts caused by oil and hazardous substances takes time—often years. The season during which the resource was injured, the type of oil or hazardous substance, and the amount and duration of the release are among the factors that affect how quickly resources are assessed and restoration and recovery occurs.

The rigorous scientific studies necessary to prove injury to resources and services (and withstand scrutiny in a court of law) may also take years to implement and complete. But the NRDA process ensures an objective and cost-effective assessment of injuries—and that the public’s resources are fully addressed.

Learn more about how NOAA’s involvement in NRDA for other oil spills, or view the workplans we’ve developed so far for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.