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Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects (2022)

Chapter: 7 Recommendations

« Previous: 6 Effects of Oil in the Sea
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.



Chapter 7 includes the committee’s recommendations to improve oil spill science based on the conclusions drawn in previous chapters. Recommendations are targeted toward improving quantification of oil entering the sea, preventing oil from entering the sea, minimizing effects of oil that pollutes the sea, as well as recommendations for the data, framework, and research needed to better understand the fate and effects of oil in the sea and to minimize those effects on humans and on the marine environment. Recommendations are directed toward government, industry, and research communities with interest in North American waters. Recommendations targeted toward government agencies include relevant agencies at national, state, and local levels in the United States, in Canada, and in Mexico. National agencies include, but are not limited to:

Canadian Agencies:

  • Canada Energy Regulator (CER)
  • Canada–Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board
  • Canada–Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board
  • Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada (DFO)
  • Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)
  • National Research Council
  • Natural Resources Canada
  • Transport Canada

Mexican Agencies:

  • CNH Comisión Nacional de Hidrocarburos (National Commision for Hydrocarbons)
  • Instituto Mexicano del Petróleo (National Institute of Oil Studies)
  • Mexican Navy (Marine Environment Protection Division) (PROMAM)
  • Ministry of Communications and Transport
  • Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAT)
    • Federal Attorney for the Protection of the Environment (PROFEPA)
    • National Agency for Safety of Energy and Environment (ASEA)
  • Ministry of National Defense
  • Ministry of the Energy (Secretaría de Energía) (SENER)

U.S. Agencies:

  • Interagency Cooperating Committee on Oil Pollution Research (ICCOPR)
  • National and Regional Response Teams (NRTs, RRTs)
  • National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
  • Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)
  • U.S. Arctic Research Commission (USARC)
  • U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)
  • U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)
  • U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI)
    • Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM)
    • Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)
    • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFW)
    • U.S. Geological Survey (USGS)
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA)

State and local agencies are too numerous to list but include applicable entities from the state and province level to the coastal community level of government, including tribal and First Nations government.

Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.

The preceding list of government agencies underscores the breadth and depth of government responsibilities as well as the diversity of roles served by different agencies for understanding, managing, and mitigating oil in the sea. Some of these organizations have undergone recent reorganizations, and many are continually adapting their scope and responsibilities to address new charges and government leadership. Moreover, it is unlikely that the responsibilities of each agency within one nation are fully understood by those in other North American agencies. Neither oil nor its environmental effects are necessarily contained in the jurisdiction in which the oil was spilled, requiring further understanding and coordination between North American agencies.

Recommendation—Defining Roles and Responsibilities: In light of the complexity of agency responsibilities for oil in the sea and recent reorganizations of many of these agencies, the committee recommends the roles and responsibilities of various authorities involved in overseeing the oil and gas industry and marine environmental protection should be clarified in order to make specific recommendations to these authorities. Specific to the United States, the committee recommends that the Interagency Cooperating Committee on Oil Pollution Research examine the recommendations, assign responsibility, and form a working group to further explore potential funding mechanisms such as the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

In addition to the complexity of agency responsibility for oil in the sea, industrial organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and private foundations also have roles and responsibilities in addressing or supporting many of the following recommendations.


Recommendation—Improve Quantification of Oil Inputs into the Sea: In recognition of decades of inaction on past Oil in the Sea report recommendations to measure natural and anthropogenic oil inputs to inform mitigation of the effects on the marine environment, the committee recommends that an independent group report on measures and responsibilities of North American agencies to acquire appropriate data to better achieve quantification of oil inputs to the sea. The following actions should be taken to improve quantification of oil inputs to the marine environment:

  • Federal agencies should work with industry and academia to use existing techniques, along with exploration of new technologies, for identification and quantification of inputs from natural seeps including less recently studied areas such as the North American Pacific margin, North American Arctic margin, and newly discovered seeps in the North American Atlantic margin. Priority should be given to areas with offshore energy exploration and production and along marine shipping routes to better assess background levels of oil in the sea and inform damage assessment.
  • Federal agencies should work with state and local authorities to undertake regular monitoring of oil inputs from land-based sources of water (runoff, rivers, harbors, and direct ocean sewage discharge) to determine oil inputs into marine environments.
  • Federal agencies should support research to refine estimates of land-based inputs of oil that are transported via the atmosphere to the sea (including fuel jettison) by (1) expanding the geographic and temporal coverage of data collection, and (2) refining understanding of the source of hydrocarbons measured in marine atmospheres and surface seawater.
  • Relevant agencies should work with industry to gain a better understanding of composition and concentrations in produced water (from offshore exploration and production activities) released into the marine environment and implement practices to reduce potential environmental impacts of these discharges.
  • A study should be conducted on the level of MARPOL Annex I compliance to establish a baseline to monitor changes in compliance.


Recommendation—Prevention of Anthropogenic Oil Inputs into the Sea: During the transition to more renewable energy sources, the following recommendations should be acted upon by industry and by federal and state agencies to prevent future spills in North American waters along with their actual and perceived effects:

  • Consistent with previous reports, government and industry should continue their efforts to develop and implement technologies and best practices to prevent and reduce the magnitude of accidental spills from onshore and offshore pipelines and facilities and marine transportation. The committee recognizes the risk of complacency following periods of reduced spillage and advises government and industry maintain vigilance.
  • Government should review whether technical recommendations arising from the extensive investigations in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon incident regarding blowout preventers, as well as operational issues and safety culture, have been implemented, and identify those that have not yet but could be implemented.
  • Government should conduct a comprehensive review of the integrity of coastal onshore and offshore energy infrastructure to determine if it can withstand increased
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
  • frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and other natural hazards, including:
    • Review and update of design criteria for extreme events in light of new data.
    • Assessment of modifications to existing structures needed to prevent or mitigate damage or spillage of oil resulting from extreme events.
    • Development of response plans and corresponding response capabilities to reduce and mitigate spills in case of damage due to extreme weather events.
  • To mitigate potential spills from aging infrastructure, appropriate agencies should take inventory of the existing remnants of oil storage, transport, or production activities that still need to be identified. Salvage or capping of these facilities should be prioritized based on the potential impact if the infrastructure fails.
  • In order to maintain response readiness, government should assess the economic and environmental impacts of changes in marine vessel transportation on pollution risk, such as introduction of new fuel types, increased vessel size, new types of cargoes (LNG, other gases, biofuels, and diluted bitumen), and new traffic patterns and offshore infrastructure.


Recommendation—Response Toolbox: Regulatory mechanisms should be introduced to encourage evaluation, permitting, and deployment of new advanced response techniques when they become available. The use of these techniques during actual emergency response should be guided by the specific scenario to ensure they add value and maximize health, safety, environmental, cultural, and socioeconomic protection.

Recommendation—Integration of Science with Response: Appropriate responsible agencies should plan for effective ways for rapid scientific response to oil spills to enable scientists to mobilize to the field quickly and in concert with response operations. This should involve rapid communication and approvals between all parties to define the operationally relevant science direction and gather relevant information for future decision making with respect to minimizing the effects of the spill.

Recommendation—New Products and Fuel Types: Government should fund research needed to study the composition, toxicity, and behavior of new types of marine fuels (e.g., low-sulfur fuel oil, very low sulfur fuel oil, biofuels) and petroleum products (e.g., diluted bitumen) so that fate and effects of these products can be understood and response operations can be planned and executed most effectively to reduce impacts.

Recommendation—Human Health Effects: The governmental agencies involved in responding to an oil spill should upgrade the priority and attention given to individual and community mental and behavioral effects and community social-economic disruptions in Incident Command Structure (ICS) decision-making and response processes. The inclusion of community-based human health assessment and mitigation measures into the ICS is needed to provide a more holistic approach regarding both human and ecosystem health.

Recommendation—Protection of Key Food Web Components and Endangered Species: Large oil spills contaminating productive marine ecosystems and shorelines may inflict mass mortalities on vulnerable species such as seabirds, marine mammals, and shoreline biota and disrupt the ecology in that location. Following a spill, appropriate environmental specialists (e.g., an environmental technical specialist in the incident command structure) should promptly identify these species, and ecological linkages should be promptly identified and their abundances in the affected region should be monitored, to enable detection of these indirect effects on populations at the community level and ensure their protection.


Recommendation—Baseline Knowledge and Data: There is a need to review how pertinent knowledge and data from numerous sources are most effectively assembled, made available, and archived, given the advances and gaps in understanding noted in this report.

  • The review should assess what is needed for baseline knowledge and data with recognition that both natural and anthropogenic influences (other than inputs of oil) result in baselines that are dynamic in space and time.
  • Funding should be established for appropriate baseline data acquisition and curation in locations of particular interest, such as coastal areas, areas with offshore energy exploration and production, and marine transportation routes.
  • Data collections would include aspects such as physical oceanography, biogeochemical processes, contaminant source surveys, critical species (e.g., endangered, abundant, vulnerable, or of commercial importance) and marine biodiversity, and pertinent metrics of human health and well-being.
  • As a corollary, guidelines should be developed for collecting and analyzing baseline data immediately after and in the midst of a spill from neighboring, unaffected (control) areas, where possible.
  • For example, U.S. Interagency Cooperating Committee on Oil Pollution Research member agencies, in cooperation with relevant agencies from Canada and Mexico and other interested parties, should convene a series of regional workshops and studies to inform the most efficient process of defining and assembling the evolving baseline knowledge and data. These workshops should be inclusive in gathering relevant
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
  • knowledge from stakeholders such as indigenous peoples; diverse rural, suburban, and urban coastal communities; government agencies; business and industry; nonprofit groups; and the academic sector. The assembled knowledge and data should be stored in a useful format to support oil spill response, oil spill damage assessment, and assessment of fates and effects of oils spills and other oil inputs.

Recommendation—Data Management and Interdisciplinary Research: Given the enormous datasets being generated through advanced chemical analyses, ‘omics techniques, geoscience surveys (among others), and especially field and laboratory studies pursuant to oil spills, the committee recommends the formation of a free central, universally accessible, and curated repository of information pertinent to oil in the sea. Optimum use of such archives will require development of data analytics, data quality control, and reporting standards for associated metadata to enable integration and interpretation by, and training of, interdisciplinary teams.

Recommendation—Arctic Studies: In agreement with previous reports, there should be a concerted effort to gather information about the fate of oil in Arctic marine ecosystems, with and without ice cover, in advance of further development of this region. This would include baseline surveys (geophysical and biological), efficacy of response and mitigation options, data acquisition on natural attenuation and active remediation strategies including biodegradation kinetics at low temperature, and effects on higher organisms, populations, and ecosystems in Arctic waters and on shorelines.

Recommendation—Monitoring Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon Profiles in Sediments and Bivalves: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) should reinstitute the nationwide NOAA National Status and Trends Mussel Watch Program involving nationwide sampling at the suite of stations previously sampled annually for more than two decades. These samples should be analyzed for an expanded suite of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon analytes and selected petroleum biomarker compounds to provide a better assessment of the status and trends of petrogenic hydrocarbon contamination of coastal waters. Instituting this simultaneously with a collaborative program with Canada could be beneficial to both countries in assessing the status and trends of petrogenic hydrocarbon contamination in coastal waters. The human health implications of these findings to seafood safety determinations should be evaluated.


Recommendation—Long-Term Funding for Inputs, Fates, and Effects of Oil in the Sea: As recommended in Oil in the Sea III, there remains a need for long-term, sustained funding focused on oil in the sea to support multi-disciplinary research projects that address current knowledge gaps, including those listed as Research Needs throughout this report. Research is needed to address new regulatory requirements and to improve response capabilities. The application of new data and technologies to advance interdisciplinary knowledge of fates and effects of oil in the sea will require a longer funding commitment than in typical.

Recommendation—Field Studies: As recommended in previous studies, controlled in situ field trials using real oils should be planned, permitted, and funded to incorporate multi-disciplinary research focused on important processes as well as response techniques that do not accurately scale from in vitro or ex situ experiments to in situ conditions. Additionally, funding and systemic mechanisms should be set in place by appropriate agencies to enable rapid deployment of qualified scientific personnel during actual oil spill events (i.e., spills of opportunity) to conduct appropriate, time-critical research in situ, outside the Natural Resource Damage Assessment process, while having minimal or no interference with spill response activities.

Recommendation—Employing Advanced Analytical Techniques: To answer questions asked for appropriate use in forensic analyses of spilled oils and other inputs and in damage assessment and response activities, relevant agencies and research communities should:

  • Incorporate recent advances in analytical chemistry techniques in standardized protocols. Continued expansion of the use of these techniques in research efforts connected with inputs, fates, and effect studies is strongly encouraged. The preceding should be accompanied by rigorous quality control and quality assurances for sampling and analyses underpinned by preparation, calibration, and maintenance of a suite of existing and expanded appropriate Standard Reference Materials by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology and comparable agencies in Canada and Mexico.
  • Expand the current libraries of oil characteristics with more detailed analyses and reference oils.
  • Utilize and continue to develop and validate ’omic technologies, and their rapid advancements, targeted at individuals (microbes to higher organisms) through environmental samples encompassing population and community compositions to provide information on oil fate and short- and long-term direct and indirect effects of oil exposure.


Chapters 4, 5, and 6 include detailed lists of specific research needed to advance understanding of fates of oil in the sea, of effects of oil on the marine environment, and of minimizing those effects through improved response. Tables 4.5, 5.4, and 6.3 include the committee’s recommendations on research needed to fill important gaps and to continue to progress oil spill science.

Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
Page 361
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
Page 362
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
Page 363
Suggested Citation:"7 Recommendations." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Oil in the Sea IV: Inputs, Fates, and Effects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26410.
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Oil and natural gas represent more than 50 percent of the worldwide energy supply, with high energy demand driven by population growth and improving standards of living. Despite significant progress in reducing the amount of oil in the sea from consumption, exploration, transportation, and production, risks remain. This report, the fourth in a series, documents the current state-of-knowledge on inputs, fates and effects of oil in the sea, reflecting almost 20 additional years of research, including long-term effects from spills such as the Exxon Valdez and a decade-long boom in oil spill science research following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The report finds that land-based sources of oil are the biggest input of oil to the sea, far outweighing other sources, and it also notes that the effects of chronic inputs on the marine environment, such as land-based runoff, are very different than that from an acute input, such as a spill. Steps to prevent chronic land-based oil inputs include reducing gasoline vehicle usage, improving fuel efficiency, increasing usage of electric vehicles, replacing older vehicles. The report identifies research gaps and provides specific recommendations aimed at preventing future accidental spills and ensuring oil spill responders are equipped with the best response tools and information to limit oil’s impact on the marine environment.


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