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 damagesThe 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.
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:
- Department of Ecology (chair)
- Department of Fish and Wildlife
- Department of Natural Resources
- State Parks and Recreation Commission
- Department of Health
- Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation
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.
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.
- Habitat and organisms potentially impacted by the spill.
- Type of oil spilled.
- Volume of oil spilled.
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
- For more information, see the publication Credit for Oil Recovery.
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.
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.