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Looking back 25 years EVOS in the rear view mirror Bob Spies Oil Spill Response Symposium University of New Hampshire October 28, 2014.

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Presentation on theme: "Looking back 25 years EVOS in the rear view mirror Bob Spies Oil Spill Response Symposium University of New Hampshire October 28, 2014."— Presentation transcript:

1 Looking back 25 years EVOS in the rear view mirror Bob Spies Oil Spill Response Symposium University of New Hampshire October 28, 2014

2 Overview  I am an effects expert not a response expert; but I have a few observations and opinions on response (i.e., caveat emptor)  History of the EVOS and the scientific effort  Confronting uncertainty in spill science  The early toll  Early years: 1989-1994  Late years: 1994-2002  How “bad” was it?  Lessons learned

3  What happened in April 1989 in Prince William Sound and the Gulf of Alaska?  Also, what happened in Valdez, Cordova, Anchorage, Juneau, Houston and Washington D.C. after that?  Context? How “bad” was it compared to the 1964 earthquake? Global warming or ocean acidification?  Lessons for the Arctic? EVOS: The black swan, a metaphor and a real tragedy

4 History of the spill-human folly on full display Ship left Valdez March 23, 1989 reef collision; 8/11 holds rupture 12M gallons spilled Oil pooled near ship, then the storm 1500-2000km shoreline contaminated 3-year cleanup Small amount remains in beaches Evidence for 15-20 year effect

5 Why did this happen?

6 Energy flow in petroecology Proximate causes

7  Risk assessments were probably off (once in 200+ yrs); major spill 10 years after the oil started flowing  Cleanup equipment not available  Lack of tugs, radar  Adds up to: complacency and lack of preparation. In addition…

8 Oil spreads through the northern Gulf of Alaska


10 “Do something…”

11 Scientific studies  Started immediately  40+ in 1989; 100s over the next 20 years  Assessed damage, tracked recovery, studied ecosystem constraints to recovery  Over 300 publications from EVOSTC studies, hundreds from Exxon-sponsored scientists

12 Two scientific camps  Exxon has had similar/parallel studies with different conclusions  Why?  Different definitions of injury  Different standards of proof  Different frame of reference  Different power of studies

13  Effects of oil on juvenile pink salmon in PWS in 1989  EXXON: “ Post hoc ergo propter hoc”  One thing following another is not proof of cause and effect…….  Government:  ….. nor is it reason to deny a relationship. Weight of evidence approach. An example of controversy..


15 Growth of oiled juvenile salmon

16 Oil biomarker in pink salmon embryo

17 Juvenile salmon growth is reduced by oil in food

18 Immediate spill toll  ~2000 sea otters  ~200-300 harbor seals  killer whales ?  150,000-250,000 sea birds  200-300 bald eagles  Early life history stages of pink salmon and herring damaged  1500 kilometers of intertidal habitat oiled

19 Early years 1989-1994 Science: Mainly assessment of damage i.e., how many of each species were killed Workshops on pink salmon, sea otters, sockeye salmon, murres, killer whales, harbor seals for litigation Economic studies done in secret: Formulation of Restoration Plan No publications in 1989-1990 because of litigation Fisheries failures; oil persistence Policy: Trustee Council made most decisions; Management team was in charge of day-to-day activities Early settlement with Exxon for $1 billion Peer review on sidelines after settlement in 1990 Injured species list

20 Later years 1994-2002 Science: Why weren’t some species recovering? Ecosystem studies brings integrative approach to science Emphasis on publication Gulf ecosystem monitoring: How to do it. Policy: Hickel becomes Governor; appts. Charley Cole. Executive Director role expands; More reliance on peer review input Valdez blockade; SEA, NVP, APEX ecosystem studies

21 How bad was it? Context Comparison with another natural catastrophe : 1964 earthquake Common features: Similar geographic area affected Springtime Big impact on intertidal zone Impacted salmon spawning streams 25 years for recovery of resources ?

22 EVOS and long-term climate change The scale of decadal change, i.e. the 1977 regime shift, has shown Itself to be much more extensive than occurred as a result of EVOS. Extensive changes in the ecological communities on the shelf of the northern GOA as a result of climate change provide a potential measuring stick of the minimum magnitude of changes to be expected from climate change.

23 Lessons learned 1.Value of ecosystem studies in understanding perturbations. 2.Thorough study of injuries is necessary; emerging injuries. 3.Long-term dividends of study of ecosystem that supplies irreplaceable services. 4.Ecosystem studies involving public agencies produce synthetic advantages. 5.Dealing with uncertainty logically is key to moving from findings to good policy decisions. 6.Strong peer review is necessary to make adaptive management work in restoration.

24 What have we learned? 1.“Do something” is always the message, but not always a good idea 2.Clean up only recovers an insignificantly small proportion of spilled oil 3.Dispersants are oversold and work only under a narrow range of conditions 4.Booms often not very effective 5.Treatment of uncertainty is key to communicating spill effects

25 Drilling in the Chukchi Sea? The margin for human error is much slimmer Oil spill clean-up is mostly wishful thinking

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