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NPFC Glossary



When responding to or submitting a claim for an oil spill incident, certain terms have very specific meanings. The definitions or requirements below primarily come from the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), which governs most NPFC processes. In a few cases, we have tried to clarify the definitions based on our experience helping our customers.

CERCLA The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), established Superfund to enable federal agencies to clean up hazardous substance releases and contamination problems that pose a threat to public health and the environment. Read More...
claim Claim means a request, made in writing for a sum certain (specific dollar amount), for compensation for damages or removal costs resulting from an oil spill incident. Read More...
COFR A Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) is issued to vessel operators who have demonstrated their ability to pay for cleanup and damage costs up to the liability limits required by the Oil Pollution Act. With a few limited exceptions, vessels greater than 300 gross tons and vessels of any size that are lightering or transshipping oil in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) are required to comply with the COFR regulations in order to operate in U.S. waters. Read More...

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damages Damages means injury to natural resources, to real or personal property, loss of subsistence use of natural resources, loss of governmental revenues, loss of profits or earning capacity, and increased cost of additional public services. Damages also includes the cost of assessing these injuries. These damages are defined in 33 U.S.C § 2702(b)(2).
defense to liability Under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA), a responsible party (RP) is not liable for removal costs or damages if the RP shows the spill was caused solely by an act of God, an act of war, or an act or omission of a third party.
discharge Discharge means any emission (other than natural seepage), intentional or unintentional, and includes, but is not limited to spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, or dumping.

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facility

Facility means any structure, group of structures, equipment, or device (other than a vessel) which is used for one or more of the following purposes: exploring for, drilling for, producing, storing, handling, transferring, processing, or transporting oil. This term includes any motor vehicle, rolling stock, or pipeline used for one or more of these purposes.

If you are unsure if a spill involved an OPA facility, call an NPFC Claims Manager for help.

Federal Lead Administrative Trustee (FLAT)

Established by Executive Order 12777, FLATs provide a focal point for addressing natural resource issues associated with a specific incident. The NPFC only accepts NRD Initiate Funding Requests from and normally works directly with the FLAT.

State and Tribal Trustees must work through a FLAT. Those State and Tribal Trustees acting in the event of a spill may join with the designated Federal Trustees to name a FLAT.

Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC) An FOSC is a representative of a Federal agency such as the United States Coast Guard or the EPA. The FOSC oversees the oil spill response effort and determines if the efforts were conducted in accordance with the National Contingency Plan.
foreign offshore unit

Foreign offshore unit means a facility which is located, in whole or in part, in the territorial sea or on the continental shelf of a foreign country and which is or was used for one or more of the following purposes: exploring for, drilling for, producing, storing, handling, transferring, processing, or transporting oil produced from the seabed beneath the foreign country’s territorial sea or from the foreign country’s continental shelf.

If you are a U.S. claimant with a removal cost claim involving a foreign offshore unit, you can submit your claim to the NPFC without first presenting it to the responsible party.

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incident Incident means any occurrence or series of occurrences having the same origin, involving one or more vessels, facilities, or any combination thereof, resulting in the discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil.
initiate request An initiate request is a request whereby the natural resource trustees ask the NPFC for funding to support preassessment activities via an Interagency Agreement (IAG). Whereas submitting a natural resource damage claim may take months or years to adjudicate, the initiate request usually provides funding within a few days.

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liability limit

The Oil Pollution Act (OPA) establishes certain dollar amounts above which a responsible party is not liable for paying for the costs of an oil spill. These limits are based the type and tonnage of a vessel, and certain types of vessels must have a Certificate of Financial Responsibility (COFR) for these limits before they can enter U.S. waters.

An RP may submit a claim for removal costs and damages in excess of the RP's liability limit. Read More...

Title VI of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006 recently amended the limits of liability for oil removal costs and damages that result from discharges or substantial threats of discharge of oil from vessels.

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mystery spill Mystery spill refers to an oil spill for which no responsible party (RP) has been identified.

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National Contingency Plan (NCP) The NCP provides the organizational structure and procedures for preparing for and responding to discharges of oil and releases of hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants. These regulations are at 40 C.F.R. § 300.
natural resource Natural resources refers to land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other such resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United States (including the resources of the exclusive economic zone), any State or local government or Indian tribe, or any foreign government.
natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) Natural resource damage assessment (or assessment) means the process of collecting and analyzing information to evaluate the nature and extent of injuries resulting from an incident and determine the restoration actions needed to bring injured natural resources and services back to baseline and make the environment and public whole for interim losses. Regulations on NRDAs are at 15 C.F.R. § 990.
natural resource trustee Natural resources refers to land, fish, wildlife, biota, air, water, ground water, drinking water supplies, and other such resources belonging to, managed by, held in trust by, appertaining to, or otherwise controlled by the United States (including the resources of the exclusive economic zone), any State or local government or Indian tribe, or any foreign government.
navigable waters

The term navigable waters encompasses more than bodies of water large enough to accommodate a boat. The term may also include streams, creeks, and wetlands that empty into larger rivers and lakes as well as their adjoining shorelines.

However, ground water is not considered a navigable water; therefore, a spill that impacts or potentially impacts ground water but not the navigable waters of the U.S. is not an OPA spill.

If you are unsure if a spill involves navigable water, call an NPFC Claims Manager for help.

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oil

Oil of any kind or in any form, including petroleum, fuel oil, sludge, oil refuse, and oil mixed with wastes other than dredged spoil, but does not include any substance which is specifically listed or designated as a hazardous substance under subparagraphs (A) through (F) of Section 101(14) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and which is subject to the provisions of that Act.

The Coast Guard's definition of oil under OPA as well as a listing of OPA oils is available through the Vessel Response Plan Requirements FAQs.

oil spill

An occurrence or series of occurrences having the same origin, involving one or more vessels, facilities, or any combination thereof, resulting in the discharge or substantial threat of discharge of oil into or upon navigable waters of the United States, adjoining shorelines, or the exclusive economic zone (e.g., oil spill in coastal waters from a tanker).

A spill that impacts ground water, but not the navigable waters of the U.S., is not an OPA spill.

Oil Pollution Act (OPA) The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) amended the Clean Water Act and addressed the wide range of problems associated with preventing, responding to, and paying for oil pollution incidents in navigable waters of the United States. Read More...
Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund (OSLTF) The OSLTF was authorized under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA) to pay for expeditious oil removal and uncompensated damages from oil spills. The Coast Guard's National Pollution Funds Center (NPFC) is responsible for managing and administering the Fund, including adjudicating claims. Read More...
Oil Spill Response Organization (OSRO) OSROs are companies that specialize in cleaning up oil spills. They often serve as contractors or subcontractors for spill response efforts.

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preassessment Preassessment is the first phase in the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) process by which trustees determine if they have jurisdiction to pursue restoration under OPA and, if so, whether it is appropriate to do so. Some data collection and analyses occurs during preassessment, including the collection of ephemeral data. Preassessment activities are generally paid out of the Emergency Fund of the OSLTF.
public vessel Public vessel means a vessel owned or bareboat chartered and operated by the United States, or by a State or political subdivision thereof, or by a foreign nation, except when the vessel is engaged in commerce.

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remove/removal Remove or removal means containment and removal of oil or a hazardous substance from water and shorelines or the taking of other actions as may be necessary to minimize or mitigate damage to the public health or welfare, including, but not limited to, fish, shellfish, wildlife, and public and private property, shorelines, and beaches.
removal claims

Removal costs means the costs of removal that are incurred after a discharge of oil has occurred or, in any case in which there is a substantial threat of a discharge of oil, the costs to prevent, minimize, or mitigate oil pollution from such an incident. Read More...

responsible party (RP)

The responsible party of an incident is the person, business, or entity that has been identified as owning the vessel or facility that caused the spill. The term does not imply criminal negligence.

Not all incidents have a designated responsible party; these spills are called mystery spills. However, if your incident does have an RP, in almost all cases, you must first submit your claim to the RP before you can submit it to the government (i.e., NPFC).

If you are unsure if a spill has an RP or who it is, contact the FOSC or an NPFC Claims Manager. 33 U.S.C § 2701(32) defines the RP for various types of vessels and facilities.

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substantial threat of a discharge Not all oil incidents result in oil actually spilling; a threat of a discharge refers to situations in which most likely oil will spill unless someone tries to stop it. OPA allows you to submit claims for these situations as well.
sum certain Sum certain means a specific dollar amount.

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vessel Vessel means every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water, other than a public vessel.

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Last Modified 10/22/2013