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Researcher looks at regulatory muddle in wake of Deepwater Horizon disaster

Wed, 07/23/2014

LAWRENCE — In April 2010, a catastrophic explosion sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated for the BP company some 50 miles off the Louisiana coast in the Gulf of Mexico. Eleven rig workers lost their lives, and oil gushed freely into Gulf waters for the next 87 days — some 210 million gallons of oil in total. The spill was the worst in U.S. history, and many viewed the government reaction to be inadequate.

A researcher at the University of Kansas recently has investigated how past experiences with hurricanes may have impeded state and local responses to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Because of the size of the spill, it was new,” said So-Min Cheong, associate professor of geography. “In addition, it occurred in the Gulf where frequent hurricanes are a norm. In some ways this was a plus as they are used to dealing with disasters, but in other ways this prevented people and local and state governments from addressing the spill well because they are not used to oil-spill regulations and response.”

Cheong first became interested oil spills by a major 2007 accident in South Korea, and she continued her research with help from a Faculty Early Career Development grant from the National Science Foundation in 2012.  She has become a noted expert on spills, recently having edited an entire issue of the journal Ecology and Society dedicated to the subject.

“Oil is an important resource, and its global transportation and production always carry the risk of mega-spills that harm the environment and coastal livelihoods,” Cheong said. “Regulations and laws serve as preventive measures and response and recovery tools for affected communities and the environment.”

In the case of the Deepwater Horizon spill, Cheong found that previous experience with frequent hurricanes in Louisiana altered the response of government and the expectations of citizens.

“Natural-resource damage assessment started soon after the spill,” she said. “People were frustrated because initially it seemed like they did not care about human recovery unlike in times of hurricanes. If the expectations are unmet, they generate confusion and resentment, consume the political capital of governments unnecessarily and waste valuable local human resources that could have been employed to respond better.”

In particular, Cheong found that government agencies at all levels were hampered by the shift in regulations from the Stafford Act — which effectively empowered local authorities in the response to hurricanes — to the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was more of a “top-down” approach. The result was “a heightened sense of uncertainty,” according to the researcher.

Going forward, “Understanding the regulations by establishing networks with relevant government agencies and oil rig owners are important,” she said. “For the communities, incorporating the quality-of-life aspect would be useful. For now, environmental assessment exists for compensation purposes, but no holistic assessment of community impact and the quality of life exists. The only mechanism is the compensation of livelihoods that were lost.”



Happy Kansas Day, Kansans! We caught sunflowers standing tall at the Grinter Family Farms just outside Lawrence last fall. You may wonder how the sunflower came to be the State flower in 1903 and we found an excerpt from Kansas legislation: Whereas, Kansas has a native wild flower common throughout her borders, hardy and conspicuous, of definite, unvarying and striking shape, easily sketched, moulded, and carved, having armorial capacities, ideally adapted for artistic reproduction, with its strong, distinct disk and its golden circle of clear glowing rays -- a flower that a child can draw on a slate, a woman can work in silk, or a man can carve on stone or fashion in clay; and Whereas, This flower has to all Kansans a historic symbolism which speaks of frontier days, winding trails, pathless prairies, and is full of the life and glory of the past, the pride of the present, and richly emblematic of the majesty of a golden future, and is a flower which has given Kansas the world-wide name, "the sunflower state"... Be it enacted ... that the helianthus or wild native sunflower is ... designated ... the state flower and floral emblem of the state of Kansas.

We caught sunflowers standing tall at Grinter Family Farms outside of Lawrence last fall. Happy Kansas Day, Kansans! http://t.co/8V3JMMMfhb
Explore KU: The Bells of Mount Oread KU’s Campanile, a 120-foot-tall timepiece that tolls automatically on the hour and quarter-hour, not only sounded in the 2015 New Year at midnight with 12 mighty gongs, but also regularly rings up memories for many Jayhawks – the 277 faculty and students who gave their lives during World War II, the graduates who walk through its doors at commencement, and aspiring students who have strolled through the Lawrence campus. (See http://bit.ly/1xjjwJj). For nearly 60 years, KU’s 53-bell carillon has been tolling the sounds of peace and serenity across Mount Oread since it was installed in June 1955 inside the landmark World War II Memorial Campanile, which was dedicated in 1951. (See http://bit.ly/1BoL9jv) The carillon is also a four-octave musical instrument, which is played with a giant keyboard and foot pedals. University Carillonneur Elizabeth Egber-Berghout (http://bit.ly/14fiBPl), associate professor of carillon and organ, climbs 77 steps up a spiral staircase in the bell tower to perform recitals several times a month.


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
—U.S. News & World Report
Top 50 nationwide for size of library collection.
—ALA
23rd nationwide for service to veterans —"Best for Vets," Military Times