FWS National Contingency Plan



In 1967, the Torrey Canyon oil spill near Cornwall, England, prompted the Federal government to assess its ability to respond to oil spills if they occurred within U.S. coastal and intracoastal waters and the Great Lakes. As a result, several Federal agencies developed the National Multiagency Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan in order to utilize Federal agency expertise during responses to oil spills and releases of hazardous substances. This multiagency plan, adopted in 1968, later became known as the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan or simply the National Contingency Plan (NCP).

On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound. The result of this navigational error was the loss of over 242,000 barrels (over 10,100,000 gallons) of North Slope crude oil into the sound. The discharge of oil by the Exxon Valdez created an environmental nightmare. At that time, it was the largest oil spill that occurred in U. S. waters. The ExxonValdez spill, in conjunction with several other incidents (the Mega Borg, the American Trader, and the Presidente Rivera among others) that occurred during 1989 and early 1990, finally stimulated the necessary support for legislation to minimize the effects of future oil spills. The legislation came in the form of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA).

Although the passage of the OPA was catalyzed by the Exxon Valdez spill and the other spill incidents that occurred during that time period, Congress had been working for over 15 years to incorporate a response mechanism into workable legislation that would prevent future spill disasters. The OPA provides for the prevention of, liability for, removal of, and compensation for the discharge of oil into or upon the navigable waters of the United States. It accomplishes this by making Federal removal authority stronger; revising spill prevention, control, and countermeasure plans; requiring prespill planning for response activities, the establishment of the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, the formation of Area Committees to develop Area Plans at the local levels of expertise, increased standards for various vessel related requirements, harsher penalties for the responsible parties, and making responsible parties liable for payment of response costs and damages resulting from the discharge. Many of the requirements mandated in the OPA are achieved through directed amendments to specific sections of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (the Clean Water Act), specifically the NCP.

In requiring enhanced capabilities for prespill planning, the OPA emphasizes several points of real importance to natural resource trustees. These points specifically focus on trustee removal activities, preassessment of natural resource damages, natural resource damage assessments, and the reimbursement and funding for these activities. As a manager of trust resources, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is responsible for implementing many of these mandated requirements. These designated responsibilities are key natural resource components of the OPA in pursuing the "immediate and effective protection, rescue, and rehabilitation of, and the minimization of risk of damage to, fish and wildlife and their habitat that are harmed or may be jeopardized by a discharge." Some spills will require a complex response and extended presence from the FWS, while others will require only a minimal effort. The level of participation from the FWS will depend entirely upon the spill situation, but it is the goal for the FWS to take the most appropriate action necessary to effectively protect, rescue, rehabilitate, and reduce the risk of injury to fish and wildlife and sensitive environments.


The FWS Oil Spill Contingency Plan (FWSOSCP) is written to be as comprehensive as possible, with the flexibility of being amended as needed. It furnishes the guidance necessary to meet the requirements set forth in the OPA and under the revisions to the NCP. The design of the FWSOSCP is for expedience and simplicity of use during a spill. Each chapter is written to provide sufficient information (in conjunction with support from associated Appendices) to allow for appropriate removal/response activities during a discharge of oil. Many chapters and the table of contents include references and/or internet links to further one's knowledge in specific areas.

When the FWSOSCP was last updated in 1995-97, the intent was to have regular review and updating. Various factors, including minimal staffing, has precluded the originally envisioned review process. The most recent update, in 2005, has been facilitated by the development of the internet and more ready access to current documents as needed. This document and its appendices are being made available on the FWS internet site, and references have been added to appropriate web sites where additional information and up-to-date documents may be found.

A new concept for FWS spill response activities was introduced in the 1987 FWSOSCP, the Incident Command System (ICS). The ICS offers a more efficient coordination network and response effectiveness during future spill incidents. All individuals participating in a spill incident must qualify to fill a designated position in the ICS. The position descriptions and the requirements are contained in the Task Books for the DOI Spill Response Management System (see Appendix C).

The FWSOSCP should be utilized as a guidance tool by FWS personnel participating in removal/response activities associated with a discharge of oil, and to a lesser extent, for preassessment of natural resource damages. It should also be consulted during the development of the numerous Plans required by the OPA (Area Contingency, facility, vessel, etc.) and the establishment of FWS Regional Contingency Plans (RCP). The FWSOSCP and the RCPs should be used by Field Offices and National Wildlife Refuges to formulate basic removal/response plans for dealing with local discharges and releases. The Field Office and Refuge Plans may only need to supplement the FWSOSCP and the RCP with a list of appropriate phone numbers to call during a discharge or release and any local variations to the FWSOSCP or RCP. The FWSOSCP covers most topics of importance to the FWS. It identifies essential requirements for responding to threats and/or exposures of natural resources to a discharge of oil and the processes for accessing the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund for reimbursement of removal/response and preassessment activities. It also includes extensive appendices for supplemental information, as well as internet links for further information and updates to documents.

Definitions and Appendices are included in the FWSOSCP for clarification and more detailed explanations. Chapters and sections that are found to be lacking information or that might need to be eliminated should be identified for the review process to allow for alterations. Changes to this OSCP will be posted to the FWS internet web site as available, .


Last updated: February 14, 2013