The Prince William Sound (PWS) Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) was authorized in 1990 by the United States Congress to “identify and develop the best available techniques, equipment, and materials for dealing with oil spills in the Arctic and sub-Arctic marine environments” (Title V, Section 5001, Oil Pollution Act of 1990); and, also to “determine, document, assess and understand the long range effects of the EXXON VALDEZ oil spill on the natural resources of Prince William Sound. . . and the environment, the economy and the lifestyle and wellbeing of the people who are dependent on them.”   In 1996, the act was amended to expand the area of emphasis from the Exxon Valdez oil spill region to the Arctic and sub-Arctic marine environments.   A 2005 amendment mandates that OSRI continue its programs until one year after the completion of oil exploration and development efforts in Alaska.

OPA90 identifies the PWS Science and Technology Institute (known as the PWS Science Center) in Cordova, Alaska, as administrator and home for OSRI. Between 1992 and 1995, Congress appropriated $500,000 for the OSRI program. Since 1996, when amendments instituted a funding mechanism for OSRI, the program has received annual interest earnings from a $22.5 million trust held by the U.S. Treasury.  A 2012 amendment increased the trust to $35.3 million.

OPA90 also set up an Advisory Board to determine policies of and programs supported by OSRI.  This includes oversight of the development of strategic plans, research plans, and annual work plans.   The Advisory Board includes three federal, three state, two oil and gas industry, two fishing industry, two native community, and two at-large representatives.  Additionally, there are non-voting members from the Institute of Marine Science/ University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Prince William Sound Science Center.

The OSRI Advisory Board meets at least twice each year to set policies and review the implementation of OSRI programs. The Board’s structure includes four committees –   Executive, Scientific and Technical, Financial and Work Plan – each of which meet as needed throughout the year. Annual work plans are adopted by the Advisory Board in the early fall and determine continuing projects and new project solicitations to be issued in the coming year.

OSRI’s first strategic plan for oil pollution research and development (1995) focused on the risks and costs of oil spills. The strategic plan adopted in 2002 focused OSRI programs to improve prediction of natural changes. This approach also improves our assessment of costs, a key element in identifying the best oil spill prevention and response technologies.  The mission and goal statements of the Strategic Plan were reviewed and modified again in 2002, 2008, and 2014.   Each review led to the development of a five-year Research Plan that outlined how to implement the goals of OSRI.

OSRI solicited its first proposals for grant projects in late 1997. Since 1998, OSRI has awarded approximately nine hundred thousand dollars a year to support a wide range of projects.   The projects awarded funds in any given year are outlined in the annual work plan, which is based on the five-year research plan.  The research plan is organized around the four strategic goals: Understand, Respond, Inform, and Partner.  The types of projects OSRI funds to fulfill each strategic goal are described in the annual report.