Coast Guard Spill-Response Database Offers Near-Real-Time Story Leads

August 25, 2010

Not all oil and chemical spill stories involve human and ecological disasters in the Gulf — there may well be some more commonplace spill stories in your media market. How do you find them? Try the National Response Center (NRC).

Under several laws, the federal government maintains a single call-in facility for the reporting (often required) of all kinds of oil and chemicals leaks, spills, and discharges. It is operated by the US Coast Guard. The NRC relays spill reports to the appropriate agencies.

The NRC keeps a database of all the reports it gets — and it puts the database, and the reports behind it, online in a form than can be queried or downloaded. Not all the information reported may be publicly available, but when newsworthy it is usually enough to start a story with.

The WatchDog reported in 2008 that the Coast Guard had been delaying posting of these reports in order to censor them. The delay, if not the censorship, has apparently stopped. On the WatchDog's recent visit to the NRC query page, the data was fresh — less than a day old. You may not always get the name of the suspected dumper or leaker, but you may get the names of local police and fire agencies who do have the information.

Try asking the database for all the spill reports in your state in the last week. You might find a story.