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Oil Spill Response Risk Judgments, Decisions, and Mental Models: Findings from Surveying U.S. Stakeholders and Coastal Residents

Bostrom, Ann, Walker, Ann Hayward, Scott, Tyler, Pavia, Robert, Leschine, Thomas M., Starbird, Kate
Human and ecological risk assessment 2015 v.21 no.3 pp. 581-604
economic impact, ecosystems, models, oil spills, oils, prescribed burning, public health, public opinion, risk, seafoods, stakeholders, surveys, toxicity, United States
This study applies a mental models survey approach to assess public thinking about oil spills and oil spill response. Based on prior interdisciplinary oil spill response research, the study first applies qualitative interview results and a response risk decision model to the design of a survey instrument. The decision model considers controlled burning, public health, and seafood safety. Surveying U.S. coastal residents (36,978 pairs of responses) through Google Insights identifies beliefs and gaps in understanding as well as related values and preferences about oil spills, and oil spill responses. A majority of respondents are concerned about economic impacts of major oil spills, and tend to see ocean ecosystems as fragile. They tend to see information about chemical dispersants as more important than ecological baseline information, and dispersants as toxic, persistent, and less effective than other response options. Although respondents regard laboratory studies as predictive of the effects of oil and of controlled burning, they are less confident that scientists agree on the toxicity and effectiveness of dispersants. The results illustrate opportunities to reframe discussions of oil spill response in terms of tradeoffs between response options, and new possibilities for assessing public opinions and beliefs during events.