Emergency Preparedness and Response

NCP Marine Oil Spill Response—How It Works

In the United States, the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Prevention Contingency Plan (NCP) is the federal government’s “blueprint” for responding to both oil spills and releases of hazardous substances. Originally published in 1968 following a 37-million-gallon oil spill off the coast of England, the NCP has been broadened and revised several times over the years as the agency learns more about both types of events and to meet requirements of new legislation.

Development of the NCP was jointly led by both the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because the two agencies share responsibility concerning oil spills to waters of the United States: The EPA is the lead federal response agency for oil spills to inland waterways, and the USCG is the lead response agency for spills in coastal waters and deepwater ports.

At the highest level, the NCP establishes the National Response Team (NRT) and the National Response System. The NRT guides the roles and responsibilities of Regional Response Teams (RRTs) within the National Response System. The RRTs have oversight of regional NCP planning, and each RRT has a “standing team” that is composed of federal NRT agency representatives and state and local government representatives.  Each RRT also has an “incident-specific team” that is composed of standing team members that are activated for response. Each region may also have a Regional Response Center (RRC) to provide facilities and personnel for such activities as communications, information storage, and other response coordination needs.


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The NCP also has oversight of the NCP Product Schedule required under Subpart J, which lists dispersants and other chemical and biological products allowed to be used during NCP operations. The NCP Product Schedule is updated regularly and is currently under revision to clarify and update product listing procedures.

In addition to general provisions, NCP provisions applicable to oil removal include:

  • Established  national priorities for responding to an oil release (300.317);
  • Established general response patterns for the On-Scene Coordinator (OSC), including threat determination, classification of type/size of the release, RRT and National Response Center (NRC) notification, and supervision of removal activities (300.320);
  • Authorizing  the OSC to determine if a release poses a substantial threat to the public health; to direct all federal, state, or private response and recovery actions; and to enlist assistance from state and federal agencies or special teams (300.322);

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  • Providing special consideration for releases classified as a spill of national significance, which may be nationally coordinated and directed by senior federal officials (300.323);
  • Authorizing the OSC to notify the National Strike Force Coordination Center (NSFCC) in the event of a worst-case scenario spill, which coordinates the acquisition of response personnel and equipment. In addition, the OSC must implement the worst-case portion of the tank vessel Facility Response Plan and the Area Contingency Plan (300.324); and
  • Providing funding for responses to oil releases under the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund when criteria are met. Under Section 1002 of the Oil Pollution Prevention Act, responsible parties are liable for federal removal costs and damages. Federal agencies assisting may also be reimbursed or may provide financial support for removal activities.

Additional aspects of the NCP can be reviewed at http://www2.epa.gov/emergency-response/national-oil-and-hazardous-substances-pollution-contingency-plan-ncp-overview.