Natural Resource Damage Assessment

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 requires that the government undertake a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) following an oil release to help recover resources harmed by the oil. Here, you’ll find information about what NRDA is, what is ongoing in the Gulf, and opportunities for the public to participate in NRDA. You can also visit the website of the trustees (the government representatives overseeing the NRDA process) for more information.

NRDA restoration in action (Photo Credit: NOAA)

What is a NRDA?

A natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) is the process that federal, state, and tribal governments use in their role as “trustees” to determine the injury that an oil spill has caused to natural resources, and to plan and implement an approach for restoring those resources. The goal is to return natural resources to the condition they would have been in had the oil spill not occurred (called “baseline”). In a typical NRDA, the trustees assess injuries to natural resources and then come up with a restoration plan (or plans) to address these injuries. Only when the assessment is complete can the restoration projects be started.

Who is Involved in the NRDA on the Gulf Coast?

NRDA is a legal process, and primarily involves government representatives and the parties responsible for the injuries. While some NRDA stages are not open to the public, there are certain points at which the public has the right to participate. In addition, the unprecedented size and complexity of the Gulf spill may create new opportunities for citizens to get involved.

Federal and state agencies act as “trustees” for the public and guide the NRDA, and the responsible parties pay for natural resource damages and participate in the assessment process.

NRDA Trustees for the Deepwater Horizon incident:

 Lead Trustee AgencyAdditional Trustee Agency
US Dept. of the InteriorUS Fish and Wildlife ServiceNational Park Service; Bureau of Land Management
US Dept. of CommerceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
US Dept of Defense*
US Environmental Protection Agency**
US Dept. of Agriculture**
State of LouisianaCoastal Protection and Restoration AuthorityOil Spill Coordinator's Office, Dept. of Environmental Quality; Dept. of Wildlife and Fisheries; Dept. of Natural Resources
State of MississippiDept. of Environmental Quality
State of AlabamaDept. of Conservation and Natural ResourcesGeological Survey of Alabama
State of FloridaDept. of Environmental ProtectionFish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
State of TexasParks and Wildlife Dept.General Land Office; Commission on Environmental Quality

* Not currently on the Trustee Council.

** Designated as trustees on September 10, 2012 by Executive Order 13,626.

Where Does the NRDA Process Currently Stand, and How Can I Participate?

There are three stages in the NRDA process:

NRDA Stages

1. The Preassessment phase (completed, 2010)

This stage involves the determination that the trustees have jurisdiction to conduct a NRDA and it is appropriate for them to do so (e.g. there are injuries). Limited data are also collected during this stage. The preassessment stage was completed in this case in 2010.

2. Injury Assessment and Restoration Planning phase (underway)

The trustees are currently evaluating the injuries, estimating the compensation owed as a result of these injuries, and planning for restoration. It’s important to note that, although injury assessment and restoration planning are not yet complete, some restoration projects are being started early under a process called Early Restoration (see below). This means that we are in Phase II and Phase III (for early restoration only) of the process at the same time.

3. Restoration Implementation phase (underway for Early Restoration only)

After the restoration plan is finalized, it will be presented to the responsible parties. If the responsible parties agree to the plan, they may implement the plan or fund the trustees’ costs of implementing the plan. Implementation occurs over many years.

There are both informal and formal opportunities for the public to participate in various stages of the processes outlined above. Individual citizens can:

  • Suggest and submit ideas for restoration projects (using NOAA’s project submission portal);

  • Comment on draft environmental impact assessments and restoration plans, including early restoration plans (which must be opened for public comment);

  • Provide feedback and suggestions at meetings hosted by the trustees (check for meeting dates here);

  • Participate in any public technical panels or advisory bodies established to guide restoration planning (while not a legal requirement, such entities have been formed in other cases);

  • Help implement restoration projects;

  • Help monitor the effectiveness of restoration projects, to make sure they are achieving the desired results over the long term

What About Early Restoration?

Early restoration refers not to a different type of restoration, but rather to its timing. Because NRDAs can take years to complete, early restoration agreements enable parties to get started on mutually agreed-upon restoration projects before the full NRDA process has been completed.

On April 21, 2011, the natural resource trustees announced that BP had agreed to provide $1 billion in funding for early restoration projects. The trustees have finalized three rounds of early restoration projects, worth about $700 million. In April 2015, the trustees announced an “agreement in principle” for a fourth round of early restoration projects, which includes 10 projects worth approximately $134 million.


For more details about the NRDA process and public involvement:

NRDA Participation ImageNRDA in Action Image


Early Restoration Image

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