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National Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA)  
Navarre Beach Pier

Navarre Beach Pier


The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) makes parties responsible for oil spills liable to the public and the environment. The environment and the public have a right to be made whole again following an injury to natural resources from an oil spill incident. Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) is a legal process to determine the type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public for harm to natural resources and their human uses that occur as a result of an oil spill incident or a hazardous substance release. Natural resources include land, air, water, fish, wildlife, biota, groundwater and drinking water supplies. Natural resources also include habitats and individual biological resources such as species or communities.

Economic damages, such as the loss of personal or real property or the loss of profits or earning capacity are NOT natural resource damages and are separate from the NRDA process. Economic damages are processed by the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

NRDA Process

Sanderling on Pensacola Beach. Photo by Julie Schulz.

Sanderling on Pensacola Beach

For the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the NRDA process is monitored by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trustee Council, formed in accordance with OPA to vest state and federal agencies with the authority and responsibility of ensuring natural resources are protected and restored in the aftermath of the oil spill.

NRDA is a three phase process:

  1. Pre-assessment
  2. Restoration Planning
  3. Restoration Implementation

Phase 1: Pre-assessment
April 30 - Present
Pre-assessment is the first phase of the NRDA process. In this phase, the trustees determine whether impacts to natural resources have occurred as a result of the incident. The pre-assessment phase continues as long as injuries to natural resources continue.

During this phase, baseline data is collected to create a record of the state of natural resources before the incident's impact to determine whether natural resources have been damaged. Baseline is the condition that natural resources would be in if not for the incident.

Trustees use baseline data and published studies on native wildlife and habitat to determine injury to resources.

Phase 2: Restoration Planning
September 29, 2010 - Present
Once it is established that resources have been damaged in the pre-assessment phase, trustees move on to the restoration planning phase, also referred to as the injury assessment phase. The trustees and technical working groups (TWGs) review information gathered during pre-assessment, quantify injuries and identify possible restoration projects.

Trustees evaluate the proposed restoration options, then draft and seek public comment on a restoration plan. The restoration plan identifies alternatives considered, discusses evaluation and proposes projects intended to compensate for the impacts. Examples of restoration include enhancing beach shoreline, creating oyster reefs and other shellfish habitat, and conducting species recovery and monitoring programs.

Phase 3: Restoration Implementation
Pending Completion of Restoration Planning
The final phase of NRDA is restoration implementation; implementing restoration and monitoring its effectiveness. Trustees first identify the full range of injuries to coastal and marine resources and then determine the best restoration methods. Trustees then work with the public to select and implement restoration projects.

The responsible party, working cooperatively with the trustees, pays the costs of assessment and restoration and is often a key participant in implementing the restoration. The NRDA process attempts to bypass costly litigation and efficiently restore natural resources to their baseline or original state as quickly as possible. If the responsible party does not agree to damages, the trustees may file a lawsuit or submit a claim for damages to the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The restoration implemented may fall into one or more categories, including:

Emergency restoration includes actions that are taken by the trustees prior to the completion of the damage assessment and restoration planning process to prevent or reduce continuing natural resource impacts and prevent potential irreversible loss of natural resources.

Primary restoration returns the impacted resources to the condition that would have existed if the incident had not occurred. Trustees often take actions that speed recovery of the injured resources, such as reconstructing physical habitat that was destroyed. Sometimes, however, no action or natural recovery is the best approach.

Compensatory restoration addresses losses from the date of injury until recovery is completed. While the resource is impaired, it is unable to provide services on which other parts of the ecosystem and the public rely (such as fish nursery habitat or recreational use). Trustees ensure that restoration projects address the period from injury until recovery.

Early restoration, a form of compensatory restoration, can be implemented prior to the completion of the NRDA process, when opportunities arise, to achieve restoration faster. If the projects are successful and meet certain criteria, the responsible parties could receive restoration credits for the projects, which would be applied against their total natural resource damage liability.


NRDA Sampling

DEP staff member conducts pre-assessment baseline sampling

DEP staff member conducts pre-assessment baseline sampling data along Florida's coast.


In accordance with the NRDA process, pre-assessment baseline sampling was conducted by DEP throughout Florida from April 30 - July 15, 2010 along Florida's entire coastline, including Atlantic Coast counties. View the full timeline.

As of January 20, 2011, NRDA teams in the five Gulf States have collected nearly 30,000 total samples, including those collected by 89 offshore NOAA research cruises. Types of samples include water, tissue, sediment, submersed aquatic vegetation, tarball and oil samples. Laboratories have conducted about 53,000 total NRDA analyses on these samples. Teams have surveyed over 4,000 linear miles of shoreline. They have documented 1,053 miles of oiled shoreline and are reporting that 83 miles of shoreline are still heavily or moderately oiled - none of which are in Florida. Nearly 10,000 NRDA samples have been taken in Florida. Visit Sampling & Monitoring or NOAA's Gulf Restoration data website for more information.




Important Phone Numbers

  • Claims
    (800) 916-4893
  • Report Oil
    (800) 320-0519
  • Environment/Community Hotline
    (866) 448-5816

  • Deepwater Horizon Incident Joint Information Center
    (713) 323-1670
  • DEP Press Office
    (850) 245-2112
  • News Archive

Last updated: March 07, 2011

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