Restoring resources after spills

Anyone responsible for spilling oil into state waters is liable for damages resulting from impacts to natural, cultural and historic, and publicly-owned resources. We have a process for determining damages and restoring resources in partnership with other federal, state and local agencies, and tribes.

Determining damages

The process for determining damages for an oil spill is called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA). In Washington, the process is defined by rule, which lays out procedures to determine damages for impacts to natural, cultural and historic, and publicly-owned resources by:
  • Establishing the Resource Damage Assessment (RDA) Committee.
  • Outlining a pre-assessment screening process.
  • Creating the compensation schedule.
For more information on the NRDA process in Washington, see our publication on Assessing Oil Spill Damages.

The Resource Damage Assessment (RDA) Committee meets the second Wednesday of each month to conduct pre-assessment screenings for oil spills into state waters. Meetings are open to the public.

The RDA Committee is made up of the following state agencies:

Other federal, state, and local agencies, and tribes may also be asked to join the RDA Committee on a spill-by-spill basis, if their resources have been impacted by an oil spill.

Following an oil spill, the responsible party is issued a letter inviting them to participate in a pre-assessment screening process where the state Resource Damage Assessment (RDA) Committee reviews the facts of the spill and determines the appropriate method for assessing damages. Using the pre-assessment screening process, the RDA Committee determines whether to conduct detailed resource damage assessment studies, or if the compensation schedule should be used to assess damages for oil spills into state waters.

The compensation schedule is used if the RDA Committee determines that:
  • Restoration of injured resources is not technically feasible.
  • Damages are not quantifiable at a reasonable cost.
  • The responsible party has not proposed a restoration project that sufficiently provides adequate compensation.
The compensation schedule is a simplified process used to calculate damages based on the:
  • Habitat and organisms potentially impacted by the spill.
  • Type of oil spilled.
  • Volume of oil spilled.
The overall objective of this process is to restore natural resources to a pre-spill condition.

Creation of the compensation schedule resulted from concerns with how oil spill injury assessments were being conducted prior to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990:
  • 1980s — a trend was becoming apparent that the amount of money being used to assess the injury caused by oil spills exceeded that of the damages calculated
  • 1987 — seeing this as a problem, the Washington Legislature commissioned a study by the University of Washington that recommended developing a scientifically informed formula approach that would be cost-effective and provide accurate damage assessments
  • 1989 — the Legislature implemented the study’s recommended methodology
  • 1993 — we adopted the Oil Spill Natural Resource Damage Assessment rule
The compensation schedule provides a method for damages to be calculated based on a dollar-per-gallon charge. For spills less than 1,000 gallons, the range is $1 to $100 per gallon spilled. For spills of 1,000 gallons or more, this range is $3 to $300 per gallon spilled. The responsible party may be able to reduce the damages by acting quickly to contain and recover the spilled oil from the water.

During the pre-assessment screening, the RDA Committee may determine that methods alternative to the compensation schedule should be used to assess resource injuries. These methods could include, but are not limited to:

  • Habitat or resource equivalency analyses.
  • Contingent valuation methods.
  • Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing violations.

For large oil spills that cause great resource injuries, federal trustee agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will conduct NRDA under the authority of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. For these types of oil spills a Trustee Council, similar to the RDA Committee, will be created with us representing the state.

Funding for resource restoration

The ultimate goal of NRDA and other resource damage assessment methods is to restore injured resources to their pre-spill condition. This can be achieved through direct funding of a restoration project by the responsible party. Or, restoration projects may be directly funded by the Coastal Protection Fund, which is made up of responsible-party oil-spill damage assessments.

Coastal Protection Fund

Oil-spill penalties and natural-resource damage assessments are into a non-appropriated account called the Coastal Protection Fund. This money is used to pay for the restoration of natural, cultural and historic, and publicly owned resources impacted by oil spills. Eligible restoration projects are funded through the Spills Coastal Protection Fund Grant.

Recent Spills Coastal Protection Fund Grant projects can be viewed on the Grants and Loans map. Click Funding Program, scroll down, check Spills Coastal Protection Fund, and click the Apply Filters button.

Directly funded projects

At any time during the NRDA process, the responsible party can fund restoration or enhancement projects or studies that adequately compensate the state for resource injuries. Priority is given to projects or studies that seek to restore impacted resources to pre-spill conditions.