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Oil in the Arctic – Decision Making Under Conflict and Uncertainty: Exploring the Environmental and Human Dimensions of Risk from Oil in a Changing Arctic

Instructors, Dr. Mary Baker of NOAA (left), Professor Tom Leschine (center) and Robert (right), meet after class session ends.
Instructors, Dr. Mary Baker of NOAA (left), Professor Tom Leschine (center) and Robert (right), meet after class session ends.

November 30, 2012

by Robert Pavia, Ph.D., School of Marine and Environmental Affairs


The School of Marine and Environmental Affairs is examining risks from maritime transportation and oil development in the Arctic in the face of change in the physical environment, ecosystems, and the human communities that depend upon them in a graduate course being offered autumn quarter. Graduate students from programs across campus are studying threats from oil in the context of conflicting values and human-induced changes in the Arctic, with a focus on decision-making affecting the future of the region. Understanding these problems in an international context, with an emphasis on Canada and native peoples, has been enhance by the with a guest lecture by Canadian Studies Center’s Nadine Fabbi on international relations & indigenous diplomacies in the Arctic.

The course provides understanding of theory and practice for environmental policy decision-making under conditions of uncertainty and social and political conflict, in the context of Arctic development. Continuing retreat of Arctic sea ice has opened the continental margin to increasing marine shipping and new oil exploration in an area that could hold 10% of the world’s remaining petroleum. Arctic shipping is increasing with commercial sea routes opening for both cargo and passenger traffic with associated pollution risks. The U.S. government has just released its Five Year Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, which anticipates expanded oil development in the Arctic. Taught in collaboration with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, students gain experience in addressing problems in the context of the real world requirements of an ocean management agency. Two students from the class will travel to Barrow Alaska to participate in a community meeting focusing on mitigating local consequences of these larger scale changes.

Robert Pavia is an affiliate associate professor of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs. Robert has led projects including responding to human-caused and natural disasters, ecosystem-based management, and marine protected area management. 

Professor Thomas Leschine is the director and professor of the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs and an adjunct professor for the School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences. Thomas specialities include quantitative methods applied to resource management and environmental impact assessment, marine pollution management, and ocean policy studies. Thomas received his Ph.D. in 1975 from the University of Pittsburgh. 

Mary Baker is the Regional Manager of the Northwest Regions Assessment Restoration Division from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). 

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