Environmental Policy Analysis-The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Case Study: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill
On April 20, 2010, an oil platform in a northern stretch of the Gulf of Mexico near coastal Louisiana exploded. The colossal failure of the oil platform turned an environmental issue into a crisis after the failsafe device failed and an initial attempt to control oil leaking from drills in the ocean floor inadvertently increased the rate of oil release. As a result, oil began gushing into the gulf and, as of June 2010, produced a slick covering 2,500 square miles of the water’s surface.

There are multiple kinds of uncertainty resulting from this oil spill. One is the rate at which oil is leaking from the reservoir up into the ocean. Initial estimates put the oil release rate at about 1,000 barrels per day. After a month of investigation by experts, the government upwardly adjusted the estimate to about 20,000 barrels per day  a leakage rate that releases as much oil in four days as the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill.

A second kind of uncertainty stems from the shifting nature of the oil slick, which changes daily with weather patterns. In addition, the oil plume varies in depth and can be up to 4,000 feet deep or down to the ocean floor. The changing location and depth of the slick creates uncertainty about the kind and extent of environmental damage that will result. There is fear that long-term, perhaps irreversible decline in plant and animals species could result. There is also considerable concern about the health of human industries that rely on ecosystem services in this region.

A third kind of uncertainty surrounds the cause and responsibility for the oil platform explosion, the failure to contain the leak, the poor early estimates of the problem, and the inability to cap the leak successfully in the meantime. Three companies, BP, Transocean, Cameron International, and Halliburton Energy Services have already been named in lawsuits for their role in operating or owning some aspect of the oil drilling permit, oil platform, and drilling operation.

A fourth kind of uncertainty exists around potential solutions. There have been efforts to contain the leaking oil including placing various types of caps over the oil well, trying to break up the oil with a new generation of surfactants (a technical name for soap), attempting to capture the leaking oil, burning off surface oil, erecting booms around the Mississippi River delta, and cleaning oil washing up on the shoreline.

This issue has also created a multitude of political arguments and showmanship. Months before this incident, President Obama had announced support for offshore drilling as part of his energy policy, but that position is now ripe for revision. In addition, there are hosts of intersecting themes emerging in the oil spill. These include environmental issues like ecosystem damage, climate change, and urban air pollution as well as economic and political issues like affordable energy, energy security, and corporate profiteering. The result is a very big, very complex issue with many dimensions.

Imagine that you are a policy analyst and your client has just asked you to help explain the landscape of problems and solutions. Your job is to recognize that an intensely political issue like this one is likely to lack shared perspectives and, thus, make political awareness a key part of policy rationality. Accordingly, you know that you must start by gaining insight into the kinds of narratives in the debate.
In a 3-5 page paper, analyze at least three political narratives related to the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. To complete your paper, you will use a simplified version of the technique called content analysis to identify and summarize the narratives about the problem. The paper focuses squarely on the problem definition step in policy analysis and the more politically-aware assessment techniques as discussed in Unit 8.

Divide your paper into these four sections.

Section 1. Introduction (1/2 page)
As an introduction to your reader, briefly summarize the little disputed details about the oil spill, such as when and where it occurred. Do this assuming that your reader is intelligent but has not read much news about this issue at all.

Section 2. Narratives (2-3 pages) The middle section of your memo is the focus of this assignment. It summarizes at least three narratives about the oil spill. Each narrative must include a description of a stakeholder who uses it (e.g., industry, citizen, environmental activist group, etc.), the narrative’s embedded explanation for the cause of the oil spill, the meaning of the oil spill based on this narrative, and any solutions to the oil spill likely to be satisfactory for someone using this narrative. (Note: you may need to infer the solutions.) Use the examples in the Clemons & McBeth eBook, Chapter 6, pp. 197-198 Tool #3: Narrative Analysis and pp. 199-206 as a guide.

To construct these narratives, you will use a simplified content analysis. Your simplified content analysis means reading and analyzing online materials that offer opinions or positions on the oil spill. These can include news articles, blogs, and reports or other resources that you identify. As a starting point, click here to view online resources.

For our simplified content analysis, use these three steps:

1. Identify Resources: Find a few articles, blogs, etc. that appear to have different viewpoints about the oil spill.
2. Develop Codes: You will need codes for the problem, responsible parties, acceptable solutions, meaning of the oil spill. For example, you might read an environmentalist’s critique of the oil spill that suggests the problem is use of fossil fuels and that argues that the responsible parties are anyone who drives a car with an internal combustion engine. A solution consistent with this narrative may be to shift toward an economy based on alternative energy,and the overall meaning of the spill may be bad energy and environmental policy.

You may identify these positions with the following types of codes. For the problem, you might have technology failure, unsustainable development, slow response, inability to coordinate appropriately. You would then read texts and determine which of these labels apply. For the responsible parties, you might have industry, government, society as codes and read texts to see when these labels apply. Further, for causes you might have bad regulation, continued reliance on fossil fuels, company greed. Coding requires at least two passes through your resources. The first one is to develop a set of codes. The second is to apply the set of codes.

3. Construct Three Narratives: Using online resources and your coding technique, summarize the narratives you have developed. Remember that there should be at least three and you should have at least three sources that help you to construct each of your narratives. Longer resources may contain multiple narratives, but chances are there will be one narrative per resource.

Section 3. Interpretation (1/2 page)
As a conclusion to this paper, analyze the extent to which the narratives you identified are convergent or divergent. Namely, offer your reader an interpretation about whether the narratives offer a view of the problem, the responsible parties, and acceptable solutions. Note that narratives could overlap regarding the problem but have wildly different views about acceptable
solutions. Similarly, they might agree on the problem and solutions but hold very different ideas about who is responsible and should be paying for the cleanup.

Section 4. References
List your references for this assignment. As appropriate, also use citations in Sections 1-3 of your paper.
In addition to fulfilling the specifics of the assignment, a successful paper must also meet the following criteria:

EM430: Environmental Policy Analysis
Checklist for Unit 9 Assignment
Criteria: Ask yourself the following questions. Not Yet Yes

Did you describe at least three stakeholder narratives related to
the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill?
Did you use content analysis to identify and summarize the
narratives about the problem?
Did you include an Introduction section?

Did you include a Narratives section?
Did you develop codes for the problem, responsible parties,
acceptable solutions and meaning of the oil spill?
Did you include an Interpretation section?
Did you analyze the extent to which the narratives you identified
are convergent or divergent?
Did you include a reference section?
Did you use at least two credible sources beyond the text material
and validate those resources credibility?
Is your research current?
Did you use appropriate reference material to support major
Did you discuss how you evaluated the credibility of the resources
Is your content complete enough to explain your statements?
Is there a logical flow to your ideas?
Did you present the material in a clear and concise manner to provide
easy readability?
Did you prepare your memos as a Word Document?
Did you label your file correctly?
Did you use APA format to cite your sources?
Did you check your document for grammar and spelling?
Did your paper meet the length requirements?

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