Spill Response and Containment



The Commission made 10 recommendations regarding actions that the federal agencies, industry, and Congress should take to improve the response to and containment of oil spills.  


The Department of the Interior should lead a rigorous, transparent, and meaningful oil spill risk analysis and planning process for the review of industry spill response plans.  The process should ensure that operators can deliver the capabilities indicated in their response plans, including well containment.  This process will require more thorough review within the Department of the Interior itself and additional review and approval by the Coast Guard, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and NOAA.


Industry should develop and maintain readily deployable resources for rescue, response, and containment.  These resources must keep up with ever-advancing exploration and production technology


EPA, as the federal agency responsible for developing the National Contingency Plan, which governs federal response to oil spills and hazardous substance releases, should, along with the Coast Guard, amend or issue new guidance on the plan for “Spills of National Significance.”  These amendments or guidance should increase government oversight of the responsible party, augment existing structures to provide for interagency scientific and policymaking expertise during a spill, and create a communications protocol that accounts for participation of high-level officials, who may be less familiar with the National Contingency Plan, during a large spill.


EPA and the Coast Guard should bolster state and local involvement in oil spill contingency planning and create a mechanism for citizen involvement in planning and response.  EPA and the Coast Guard should create protocols to include local officials from areas at high risk for oil spills in training exercises, to establish liaisons between Unified Command and affected local communities at the outset of a response, to add a local on-scene coordinator position to the Unified Command structure, and to provide additional clarification and guidance to federal, state, and local officials about the differences between emergency response under the Stafford Act and the National Contingency Plan.


Congress should provide mandatory funding (not subject to the annual appropriations process) for oil spill research and development.  The Coast Guard should revise its Effective Daily Recovery Capacity regulations to encourage the development and use of more efficient oil recovery equipment, and EPA should revise its oiled-water discharge regulations and streamline its permitting process for open-water testing.  Congress and the Administration should encourage private investment in response technology more broadly, including through public-private partnerships and a tax credit for research and development in this area.


EPA should update and periodically review its dispersant testing protocols for product listing or pre-approval, and modify the pre-approval process to include temporal duration, spatial reach, and volume of the spill.  The Coast Guard should also issue guidance that offshore barrier berms and similar dredged barriers will not generally be authorized as an oil spill response measure in the National Contingency Plan or any Area Contingency Plan.


The National Response Team should create an interagency group—including representation from the Department of the Interior, the Coast Guard, and the Department of Energy and its national laboratories—to develop and maintain expertise in source control.  EPA should amend the National Contingency Plan to define and institutionalize the role of federal agencies and the national laboratories that possess relevant scientific expertise in source control and create a mechanism for involving outside industry experts in source-control design and oversight.


The Department of the Interior should require offshore operators to provide detailed plans for immediately deployable and effective source control as part of their oil spill response plans and applications for permits to drill.  At the permitting stage, operators must demonstrate that their source control technology is compatible with the well to be drilled.


The National Response Team should create an interagency group—including representation from the Department of the Interior, the Coast Guard, the national laboratories, and NOAA—to develop and maintain expertise in estimating flow rates and spill volumes.  EPA should amend the National Contingency Plan to create a protocol for the government to obtain accurate estimates of flow rate or spill volume from the outset of a spill.  The protocol should require the responsible party to provide the government with all data necessary to estimate flow rate or spill volume.


The Department of the Interior should require offshore operators seeking approval of proposed well designs to demonstrate that well components, including blowout preventer stacks, are equipped with sensors or other tools to obtain accurate diagnostic information like the position of blowout preventer rams and pressures.  The Department should also require that wells be designed to mitigate risks to well integrity during post-blowout containment.