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What-If Scenario Modeling to Support Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Decision-Making

Leschine, Thomas M., Pavia, Robert, Walker, Ann Hayward, Bostrom, Ann, Starbird, Kate
Human and ecological risk assessment 2015 v.21 no.3 pp. 646-666
decision making, expert opinion, managers, models, oil spills, oils, planning, politics, pollution, private sector, risk, social networks, stakeholders, uncertainty
Scenario analysis (SA) is the process of developing plausible futures around the forces affecting an organization in the face of uncertainties over which it has little control. SA is widely used in the private sector and increasingly a tool of environmental planners grappling with problems of great complexity and uncertainty. SA ideally marries expert judgment with the broader perspectives engaged stakeholders bring. While the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (OPA) brought substantive improvement to oil spill contingency planning, many issues remain. Reguatorily prescribed definitions of ‘worst case’ lead to SA practice that seldom achieves the full promise of the SA approach. Contingency planning overly focused on tactical and operational considerations can leave response managers little prepared to deal with public concerns that emerge in the event of a major spill, concerns increasingly magnified through social media. Politics continues to contribute to poorly conceived contingency planning in which adopted scenarios bear little resemblance to events that subsequently transpire. Risk attenuation and risk amplification both inhibit scenario-based planning around oil spills, evinced by the Deepwater Horizon spill. Improvements in pre-planning in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill nevertheless provide a foundation for more effective use of SA.