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Title: The management of anthropogenic environmental risk associated with oil development in the Arctic littoral
Author: Ash, John Stewart
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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This research addresses the area of decision-making concerned with the management of environmental risk in the Arctic. Specifically, it explores the knowledge gap in the application of cognitive and management techniques for reducing or eliminating anthropogenic environmental risk associated with oil development in the Arctic littoral. Considerable attention has been given m the literature to methods for the management of environmental risk arising from industrial and commercial processes. There is also a substantial corpus of study devoted to the description of the Arctic biome, its biota and ecology, as well as to technologies for the construction of industrial facilities and the extraction of liquid oil. However, the boreal environment has unique properties and to date there has been insufficient consideration of the specific issues that arise when environmental risk has to be managed for an Arctic industrial development; in particular, whether there is anything qualitatively different with regard to the practice ofrisk management in the Arctic as contrasted with its application in other biomes. The medium chosen for this research was a case study of roadless oil development on the North Slope area of Alaska. Roadless oil developments, that is, development pads that are not linked to the national infrastructure by gravel roads, are a comparatively recent innovation. Their principal environmental benefit is that such construction does not add to the increasing network of gravel fill on a tundra wetland that is easily marked by vehicles and civil engineering activity; and once marked, bears persistent evidence of that disturbance. However, in choosing to adopt alternative logistics approaches to tundra development, choices must be made regarding the tolerability and mitigation of other risks, including methods of undertaking response to emergencies including loss of well control incidents at remote and roadless sites. The method for making the many choices that condition the environmental risk resulting from such developments is the system of enviromnental assessment and permitting current in the United States. To study this problem, the researcher collected a broad range of primary data during fieldwork in Alaska. The core of this information was a set of semi-structured interviews with persons either involved in the permitting system for Arctic oil developments, or likely to be affected in some respect by their outcomes. These data were subjected to a primarily qualitative analysis to develop a grounded theory of the decision process. The findings are somewhat counterintuitive. Despite a developed approach to environmental risk assessment and management enshrined in the system of statutory controls, there remain significant shortfalls in decision quality as perceived by those involved or potentially affected by it. The system in practice is not the site specific, linear legal process of decision-making that might be discovered in statutory instruments and official reports. Rather, it is better described as a dynamic network composed of many actors from a variety of nominal stakeholder groups. This network has an ad hoe structure based on a triad of basic roles, with some actors fulfilling more than one role as circumstances dictate. Its deliberations are iterative, complex, and only semi-discrete as previous decision outcomes influence later ones. Of all the issues that affect the process and its outcomes, it is the influence of time that is discovered to be most likely to differentiate environmental risk management decision-making in the Arctic from such choices in other biomes. Building on the discoveries made in the case study, a proposal is made for a method of rendering environmental risk management decisions in a more efficient fashion, whilst simultaneously preserving distributive justice and_ without recourse to legislative change.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral