Adopting Green Practices in Response to Oil Spills in 3 Regions

Panelists and Presentation Abstracts

Panelists and Presentation Abstracts
0747 - Adopting Green Practices in Response to Oil Spills in 3 Regions

Mike Jones, Coordinator
Resilience Alliance Connectors Programme
Stockholm, Sweden

Nilufer Oral, Professor of Law
Co-chair IUCN Commission on Environmental Law Specialist Group
on Oceans, Coastal and Coral Reefs
Bilgi University, Istanbul, Turkey

Ibrahim Thiaw, Director
Division of Environmental Policy
United Nations Environment Programme
Nairobi, Kenya

Wes Tunnell, Ph.D.
Associate Director
Chair of Biodiversity and Conservation Science
Harte Research Institute on Gulf of Mexico Studies
Corpus Christi, Texas USA

Cath Wallace, Co-Chairperson
ECO: Environment and Conservations Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand
Wellington, New Zealand

PRESENTATION ABSTRACTS:

Mike Jones, Facilitator
Resilience Concepts in Relation to Oil Spill Disaster Risk Reduction

The word resilience is used in many different fields and has multiple interpretations. In the case of oil spill management, the concepts of engineering resilience and social-ecological resilience can be applied to oil industry technology and the social-ecological environment within which the oil industry operates.

Engineering resilience is about how much disturbance a system can absorb before it collapses and how quickly a collapsed system can be restored to full function. Engineering resilience is about designing and building systems that are "fail-safe" and based on the assumption of predictability.

Social-ecological resilience is similarly concerned with collapse and renewal but within living system that are self-organizing, emerging, adapting, growing, and evolving. In social-ecological systems, resilience is about using three simple heuristics of ecosystem processes to understand and manage thresholds of change between alternate system states. Resilient social-ecological systems are systems that are "safe-to-fail" and their management is based on the assumption of un-predictability.

This brief introduction will provide an overview of key features of social-ecological resilience to frame the presentation and discussion about the application of resilience concepts to oil spill disaster risk reduction.
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Dr. Wes Tunnell, Associate Director
Harte Research Institute on Gulf of Mexico Studies

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico:
Building More Resilient Systems for More Effective Responses

The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill is the largest accidental marine spill in U.S. history. The event that killed eleven workers also released nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. There were many lessons to be learned and were reported on by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling commission. Some of the key findings will be presented at the workshop. We learned that neither the government (state and federal), nor the oil and gas industry were prepared to respond to an incident nearly a mile under the Gulf. It was, as Carl Safina stated, like a house fire to which firemen responded by having to design and build the fire engine on the spot and then put out the fire. Our understanding of the effects of deep water release of oil was not adequate to assess potential ecosystem damage and advise on the efficacy of mitigation measures like the use of dispersants. The impact of such spills on biodiversity and ecosystem function in deep water and oceanic systems is not adequate to assess damage.

The Gulf of Mexico is a large marine ecosystem, characterized by its resilient nature. It is strongly influenced by the Gulf Stream bringing tropical influences to the Gulf and the Mississippi River, the third largest drainage system in the world (drains 42% of continental USA), delivering 7,000 to 20,000 cubic meters per second. The habitat infrastructure is robust and the mix of species is adaptive because of the high natural variability of the system. Maintaining that resilience is the best fundamental defense in responding to oil spills. Academia and nongovernmental conservation organizations have taken leadership in promoting efforts to restore biodiversity: The Harte Research Institute organized the Gulf Summit to bring together NGO’s, government and business to find common ground. The Gulf University Research Collaborative and the Gulf Alliance are regional efforts to organize university and government resource managers to the same end. A Gulf Report Card prototype has been developed to assess the health of the Gulf and guide what is expected to be a multi-billion dollar restoration effort.

The Gulf of Mexico, the ninth largest body of water in the world, is vital to the energy security of the United States of America (USA). The Gulf accounts for 54% of the USA's crude oil reserves and 52% of natural gas reserves. Those reserves are primarily in the deeper Gulf. The Gulf is an international water body shared between the USA, Mexico and Cuba. All of these countries are rapidly moving to continued, and in the case of the latter two countries, new developments in the deep Gulf. Federal laws in the USA restrict technology transfers that could help respond to oil spills in these waters. International cooperation in spill response has improved since Deepwater. New capability to cap run away wells in deep water now exist. Consortiums of oil and gas companies now exist to share spill response equipment. There is room for improvement. It is now illegal for USA companies to share specialized spill response equipment that could cap deep oil spills, with Cuba or Mexico. Nongovernmental organizations like IUCN could facilitate improvements in the area of oil spill response and mitigation on international scales that are not possible in more formal state-to-state relations.
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Ibrahim Thiaw, Director
Division of Environmental Policy, UNEP

Oil Spills in Ogoniland, Nigeria: The Challenges of Dealing with Cumulative Impacts

Ogoniland is an area in the Rivers state in Nigeria, where oil industry operations over the past 50 years have caused significant environmental harm. During 2009-10, UNEP undertook a comprehensive investigation of the environmental contamination in Ogoniland looking at the impact of the spills on soil, ground water, agriculture, fisheries, public health and mangrove ecosystems.
The results of the study, released in August 2011, indicated widespread and significant environmental damage that is also causing public health threats. In the most significant case, community in a village, Nsisioken Ogale, was consuming drinking water that was 900 times above the WHO limits for acceptable concentration in potable water. Hydrocarbon pollution from numerous individual sources had migrated down into the aquifer as well as laterally into other water bodies impacting fisheries, sediments and mangroves. Pollution in soil, groundwater and sediments had all gone above the national legislations in majority of the locations investigated. In a number of situations, the pollution remained above local standards even though the site was cleaned up according to the existing industry practice.
The study also looked at the institutional controls that were in place to manage the environmental consequences of the oil industry operations. The institutional assessment revealed a number of challenges with the existing regulatory framework that also need to be addressed if Ogoniland were to be returned to a path of sustainability.
Based on the physical and institutional assessment, the study came with a series of recommendation. Some these were to address the urgent environmental considerations while others were for improving the operation of oil industry operations (including response to the numerous spills which take places every years). Finally, the study recommended series of key institutional changes that are needed for improving oversight of the clean up and ongoing oil industry operations. Many of the recommendations have ramifications beyond Ogoniland.
During the presentation, the physical situation in Ogoniland at the time of the UNEP survey will be portrayed though slides and analytical results. This will be followed by systematic analyses of the issues through a resilience framework.
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Nilufer Oral, Professor of Law, Co-chair
IUCN Commission on Environmental Law Specialist Group on Oceans, Coastal and Coral Reefs

Offshore activities in the Black Sea after the Gulf of Mexico experience: A legal perspective

The Black Sea is one of the most ecologically vulnerable marine ecosystems in the world and most polluted. The conclusion of the first UNEP transboundary diagnostic analysis when completed in 1996 showed serious environmental degradation and significant loss of marine life, especially fish stocks. While there has been some improvement observed by 2012 the Black Sea remains ecologically vulnerable. During the past decade there has been an increase in hydrocarbon activities in the Black Sea. For example, since 2009 some US$4 billion has been invested in offshore drilling along the Turkish Black Sea coast. Giant semi-submersibles such as the Leiv Erickson and the Deepwater Champion were brought to the Black Sea to explore potential oil and gas reserves in its deep waters.
The Deepwater Horizon disaster that took place on 20 April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico offers many lessons on the risks of offshore oil activities. This presentation will critically examine the legal framework, including the role of resiliency, for offshore activities in the Black Sea within the context of the Gulf of Mexico experience.
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Cath Wallace, Co-Chairperson
ECO: Environment and Conservations Organisations of Aotearoa New Zealand

Mobilizing Civil Society for Oil Spill Reforms: Case Study from New Zealand’s Rena Oil Spill

Civll society played a critical role in focusing attention in New Zealand in the 2011 oil spill caused by the grounding of Rena, the container ship which called what was called the great ‘eco-disaster in New Zealand’s history. How civil society can be effective in promoting policy changes will be discussed, using examples from how New Zealand’s civil society community helped implement government regulations to protect regions in the Antarctic

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