Ecological risk assessment principles applied to oil spill response planning
This paper summarizes the process of a cooperative ecological risk assessment (ERA) that was used to examine the potential environmental consequences of oil spill scenarios in San Francisco Bay, California; Galveston Bay, Texas; and Puget Sound, Washington. The purpose of the ERA process is to evaluate the ecological trade-offs associated with the use of each of five potential oil spill removal options - natural recovery, on-water mechanical recovery, shoreline cleanup, dispersant use, and on-water in situ burning. The desired outcome of the evaluation is identification of the optimum mix of response options in reducing injury to each specific environment. Evaluations at each location were accomplished through a series of facilitated workshops involving technical experts and resource managers from as many stakeholder organizations as possible. At these workshops, the participants developed relative ecological risk evaluations for response options. At the conclusion of each ERA, the workshop participants felt that the cooperative ERA process had the potential to become an integral part of the area contingency planning process by facilitating the assessment of the effectiveness of response strategies contained in an Area Contingency Plan (ACP). Repeated application of the process for various scenarios should enable an area committee to optimize response strategies over time by maximizing net environmental benefit. This paper describes the process used by the participants and presents a simplified version of the ERA process amenable to shorter timeframes and consequently more scenarios.