Black swan oil disaster stories

Anticipating the Cascading Impact of Marine Hydrocarbon Transport Disaster Stories Upon Canadian Coastal Hazard and Risk Communities

By: Shona L. van Zijll de Jong, Dept. of Earth Sciences, Laurentian University,Ontario

Twenty-seven countries responded to the 2010 Deep Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico and offered assistance to the United States of America. By June 2010, the U.S.had accepted assistance from twelve countries and international bodies to manage this “black swan” oil spill (the largest accidental  marine oil disaster in the history of the petroleum industry): Canada contributed 3000 metres of containment boom.  

Importantly, this evidence indicates that the petroleum industry’s black swan oil disaster story  rapidly circled the globe. Many oil and petroleum producing nations took lessons from the event and applied them to national contexts. For example, cognizant that the global hydrocarbon supply chain had been anticipating growth in Canada’s oil and  gas exploration, exploitation and transportation, the Canadian government began to tackle the local- global issue of marine hydrocarbon transportation. Tellingly, the Transport Canada 2010 report is entitled: Ship Source Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) Incident Preparedness and Response Regime.  

More recently, nongovernmental organizations, academic institutions, industry, government agencies, and other stakeholders have published a number of key marine hydrocarbon transport hazard and risk reports. Many reports focus on the potential and actual impacts of marine disasters/accidents from ships in Canadian waters. Taken together, these reports suggest that Canadian stakeholders are raising important questions about the anticipated consequences of proposed hydrocarbon transportation upon Canadian coastal communities. Canada is a coastal nation-state with 56% of the world’s coastlines (over  200,000 kilometers). Investigation has tended to focus on three themes:

  1. offshore conservation in the marine environment;
  2. expansion of the renewable energy developments/schemes; and  
  3. mineral resource exploration/exploitation

Our study differs from the standard coastal risk reports and literature. Our research focuses on the cascading impact of marine hydrocarbon transport disaster stories in popular culture, policy circles, and national and international marine safety standards. It seeks to discover how coastal hazard risk assessments have become milestones in Canadian’s coastal hazard risk management strategy  and how these assessments have helped to guide the discussion required to reduce hazard risk at the municipal level. Thus, a large amount of literature has been collated and thematically analyzed to determine how Canada has advanced a coastal risk communication strategy, focused on its Northern, Western, and Eastern coastlines, to best prepare communities, industry, and government sectors for marine disaster risk.  

This five-phase research project began in 2014. The first phase was an in-depth review of over 200 peer reviewed journal articles detailing how socioeconomic vulnerability to specific coastal hazards has been qualified and quantified.  The second phase involved reviewing over 100 Canadian local and regional coastal vulnerability studies (peer reviewed articles, Canadian graduate student theses, government reports and other “grey”  literature) to determine how coastal zone hazard and risk research has been advanced by Canadian coastal hazard/risk and vulnerability research initiatives.  Over the next two years, several more phases of research will be initiated.  

We are seeking Coastal Risk Management Analysts** who would like to work on this project.

This will include:

  1. providing evidence of coastal risk reduction initiatives that have become milestones in Canadian’s coastal risk communication strategy;
  2. identifying several key gaps in Canadian approaches to the study of coastal vulnerability; and
  3. highlighting how oil spill disaster stories are changing research and coordination partnerships among industry, government, risk reduction organizations, and academics, as well as driving new research and development investment into specific business continuity plans.

The results of this project will reveal how black swan oil spill disaster stories change research and coordination partnerships among industry, government, risk reduction organizations, and academics. The goal is to show evidence of coastal risk reduction initiatives that have become milestones in  Canadian’s  coastal  risk  communication strategy with the following end result: Increase emergency response capacity and capability in local, regional, national, and international networks.

The anticipated outcome of this research is the identification of how relevant parties and stakeholders communicate and cooperate. The findings will be useful for stakeholders in academia, industry, nongovernmental organizations, and government.  

Bio: Recently, Shona received awards from the United Way and the Hollyhock Social Venture Institute.  She volunteers with the Geological Survey of Canada and the Canadian Federation of Earth Sciences.

**For more information please contact: shona.vz.dejong@alumni.carleton.ca