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Land Risk Management Research

Oil Spills


EPA land management researchers conduct extensive basic and applied research needed by the Agency and the Office of Emergency Management in controlling the effects of past and future oil spills in all environments. EPA oil spill research includes decades-long monitoring of the fate and effects of oil spilled from the 1989 Exxon Valdez incident, as well as technical support in the Gulf Oil Spill emergency. Laboratory protocols are developed that are needed for listing commercial products on the National Contingency Plan Product Schedule. Lab, pilot, and field studies provide guidance on the use and implementation of bioremediation on sandy shorelines, wetlands, and salt marshes. Definitive projects are conducted that demonstrate which factors are most important for dispersion of oil into the water column at all temperatures.

Environmental Issue or Problem

The United States produces, distributes, and consumes large quantities of oil every year to fuel our factories, power plants, homes, and provide transportation. From the production, storage, transport, and use of oil, an estimated 18,000–24,000 oil spills are reported and 10–25 million gallons of oil spilled annually. These oil releases threaten public health and safety, contaminate drinking water, cause fire and explosion, diminish air and water quality, compromise agriculture, destroy recreational areas, and waste nonrenewable resources. Oil spills cause severe environmental impacts on ecosystems by harming or killing wildlife and plants and destroying habitats and food.

Research Approach

Land risk management researchers are committed to providing environmental managers the tools, models, and methods they need to better understand the fate and effects of oil spills on ecosystems and to effectively remediate them. Research is focused in three areas of development: better understanding of fate and effects of spilled oil, testing protocols for spill control, and effective spill response options.

Land researchers develop modeling methods to assess the fate and effects of oil spills in fresh and salt water. This research provides important tools, methods, models, data, guidance, and technical support to decision makers and stakeholders for use in assessment and environmental restoration and remediation of petroleum and non-petroleum oil spills. This work provides responders and communities with essential information on the effectiveness of dispersing floating oil into the water column and assessment of effects of dispersant treatments on oil contaminating our navigable waters. EPA, in collaboration with Fisheries and Oceans Canada, funded the construction of a wave tank in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2004, which generates reproducible breaking waves. The wave tank allows quantification of the efficiency of dispersants with changing sea turbulence. Work is also underway to develop a protocol for testing the efficacy of surface-washing agents in removing oil from coated surfaces and solidifiers for collecting oil spilled floating on water. The EPA is responsible for directing, monitoring, and providing technical assistance for major inland oil spill response activities. This involves setting oil prevention and response standards, initiating enforcement actions for compliance with the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) and Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure (SPCC) requirements, and directing response actions when appropriate. EPA land researchers have been and will continue to be world leaders in carrying out research to improve response actions to oil spills, including all aspects of chemical and biological countermeasure technologies.


  • EPA: Office of Emergency Management (OEM), all EPA regions
  • State Agencies: State Departments of Health and Environmental Protection, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, Alaska, California, Delaware, New York, and others
  • Other Federal Agencies: U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Interior (USDI)'s Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (BOEMRE), U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE), Fish and Wildlife Service, Small Business Administration (SBA), OSHA, NIOSH
  • Academia: University of Cincinnati, Temple University, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), University of New Hampshire, and others
  • Business/Industry: Pegasus Technical Services, Ind., JNM Environmental, Applied Minerals, Inc., American Petroleum Institute, various oil companies
  • Other: Fisheries and Oceans (DFO)-Canada, DFO's Bedford Institute of Oceanography (BIO), Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Task Force, , Environment Canada, Coastal Response Research Center (CRRC), and others.


In FY 2010, land risk management researchers provided significant and authoritative technical support to assist in the Gulf Oil Spill emergency. Substantial experience and expertise were needed to respond to frequent questions from the Administrator, the Deputy Administrator, the AA for ORD and OSWER, Congress, and the press on matters pertaining to spill mitigation and impacts. The Land Remediation and Pollution Control Division (LRPCD) Director testified before the House Science and Technology Committee twice on improving the timeliness and pertinence of oil spill research and the use of dispersants. LRPCD continues to assist in the development of the planned recovery effort. In collaboration with DFO-Canada, LRPCD used the wave tank at BIO to answer important questions raised by the Gulf spill in regards to measurement of and monitoring underwater dispersed oil plumes. Dispersant research continues to understand the difference in behavior of oil that has been injected into the deep sea with and without the presence of dispersants. The research conducted by EPA researchers has produced for the Office of Emergency management (OEM) guidelines for the use of commercial bioremediation products in mitigating oil spills. Other research has accomplished the same for dispersants, and on-going research will do this for surface washing agents, solidifiers, and sorbents. As a result of this oil spill research, commercial products will be listed for use in response actions that will have a greater likelihood of being effective in the field and less toxic to the biota.

Fact Sheets

Science in Action: Determining Which Dispersants Will Be Effective In Future Deepwater Oil Spills (EPA/600/F-12/628) September 2012

Selected Publications

Rosales, P.I., M.T. Suidan, and A.D. Venosa. (2010). “A Laboratory Study on the Use of Solidifiers as a Response Tool to Remove Crude Oil Slicks on Seawater.” Chemosphere, 80, 4: 389–395.

Venosa, A.D., P. Campo, and M.T. Suidan. (2010). “Biodegradability of Lingering Crude Oil 19 Years After the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.” Env. Sci. Technol.,44: 7613–7621.

Koran, K.M., A.D. Venosa, C.C. Luedeker, K. Dunnigan, and G.A. Sorial. (2009). “Development and Testing of a New Protocol for Evaluating the Effectiveness of Oil Spill Surface Washing Agents.” Marine Poll. Bulletin, 58: 1903–1908.

Guidelines for the Bioremediation of Oil-Contaminated Salt Marshes (EPA/600/R-04/074) July 2004

Venosa, A.D., D.W. King, and G.A. Sorial. (2002). “The Baffled Flask Test for Dispersant Effectiveness: A Round-Robin Evaluation of Reproducibility and Repeatability.” Spill Sci. & Technol. Bulletin, 7, 5-6: 299–308.

Guidelines for the Bioremediation of Marine Shorelines and Freshwater Wetlands (PDF)(163 pp, 1.3 MB)September 2001


Roger Yeardley, Technology Transfer Specialist
U.S. EPA National Risk Management Research Laboratory
Land Remediation and Pollution Prevention and Control Division
26 W. Martin Luther King Dr.
Mail Code: 190
Cincinnati, OH 45268

Risk Mangement Research | Air and Climate Change Research | Water Research | Ecosystems Restoration Research | Land Risk Management Research | Technology: Sustainable Technologies Research, Environmental Technology Verification Program (ETV), and Technology Assessments

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