Conclusions and Recommendations
The Department of the Interior is required to assess the potential effects on the human environment of OCS gas- and oil-leasing activities, as specified and defined in the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (43 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1356, §§ 1801-1866). This requirement challenged the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the predecessor of the Minerals Management Service (MMS). BLM is neither populated with social scientists nor is it well versed in the issues that surround this subject. In Alaska, BLM (and later, MMS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration responded to the challenge, even before the 1978 amendments to the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, and developed a credible and extensive socioeconomics program, albeit one that needs augmentation. Little socioeconomics research has been done in other regions, however, even though two of them (the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific regions) have produced all of the nation's OCS oil and gas.
The Alaska region has a credible and comprehensive socioeconomic studies program. It appears to have an underlying conceptual structure, a broad definition of the human environment, an identification of study needs, and an integration of studies to fulfill program some requirements. There are some shortcomings to the program, however. The noneconomic studies focus almost exclusively on native Alaskans and the economics studies focus almost exclusively on macroanalyses of employment, income, and demographics. The program should be expanded to include social studies of nonnative Alaskans and economic studies that involve social cost analyses of oil spills and the potential effects on recreation and other businesses.
The Alaska program could be further strengthened by providing stronger linkages among the studies. For example, the economic studies provide estimates of employment and income provided by the OCS program, but they are not linked to the critical question of how these economic effects would be distributed among different groups, nor what the resultant socioeconomic effects would be. Other studies in Alaska have no obvious connection to the overall program. Some of them contain exceptionally detailed catalogues of items such as trends in dogfish prices, gear types, and vessel lengths. There is no indication of why such information was collected, how it is to be linked to other studies, or what lessons might be learned from it.
None of the other three regions has a comprehensive socioeconomics program. Much of the considerable expenditure of funds under the heading of socioeconomics studies has been devoted to the identification of archaeological sites (shipwrecks), to the collection of highly aggregated economic and demographic data, and to the funding of scientific meetings that had more ecological and oceanographic than socioeconomic content. Even some studies specifically identified as socioeconomic had substantial components—sometimes a majority—that focused on the natural sciences. The Pacific region has done more than have the other two regions to apply socioeconomic
analyses, but even those studies do not incorporate enough primary data and the program's models are not satisfactorily verified. Finally, it is most unfortunate that the opportunity was not taken to monitor and study the effects of actual development as it occurred, especially in the Gulf of Mexico.
External factors have certainly influenced the development of such striking asymmetry among the four programs. In Alaska, the importance of native populations and their cultures was clearly recognized and that importance is reflected in a variety of federal and state laws. In addition, the total population of Alaska is extremely small compared with the resources available to study it and with the potential value of OCS oil and gas. Nobody in Alaska would be unaffected by a major OCS oil or gas discovery, as the experience with North Slope oil has made clear. That is not the case in Los Angeles, New York, or many other parts of the United States where lease sales have occurred or been planned (although it might be true in some sparsely populated coastal areas). Nonetheless, socioeconomic studies are needed outside of Alaska, for two major reasons in addition to the clear mandate of OCSLA. First, because there has been so much oil and gas activity off the coasts of Louisiana, Texas, and California, a great deal could be learned by studying those places. Second, the vociferous opposition to leasing in many coastal states has made it clear that a great deal needs to be learned.
With the exception of Alaska, the environmental studies program has not proved capable of collecting and analyzing the information needed for assessment and management of effects on the human environment. With the possible exception of the Santa Barbara County Monitoring Program in southern California—which is not an MMS initiative—MMS has no adequate program for collecting the information necessary to monitor changes subsequent to leasing. This is a particular fault for the Gulf of Mexico region.
There is no quick fix to this situation. With the exception of the Alaska program and the monitoring program in southern California, there is not even much to build on. The Alaska program cannot simply be copied for use in other regions, nor could the Southern California program be copied for use in the Gulf of Mexico. The Alaska program evolved within a unique environment, primarily to address questions that do not exist elsewhere. And, for better or worse, the Gulf of Mexico has passed the stage at which the monitoring of individual projects, as is done in southern California, is feasible. That region will require assessment and monitoring of cumulative effects.
In most regions, MMS will have to develop a program from a very small base. The basic outlines of a program must be developed in most regions, as must fundamental appraisals of the situations and needs in each region. Only then can appropriate studies be detailed. The panel can, however, recommend some basic goals for such a program, delineate some fundamental properties that the program must have, and describe a process by which a program can be developed by MMS in conjunction with the scientific community.
MMS needs to establish a national, comprehensive, credible socioeconomics studies program. Although its Alaska program is comprehensive and credible, that effort cannot by itself serve as the basis for a national program, although the process by which it was developed could be used as a model.
To establish a national, comprehensive, credible socioeconomics studies program, MMS should begin with the following goals.
Create a socioeconomic research program that is national in scope and, as a result, that can generalize applicable findings from one region to another. At the same time the program must account for regional variations in study design and implementation. The program must have an established scientific integrity.
Use the program to collect the information required by OCSLA and necessary to elucidate the implications of OCS activities at all stages, from preleasing to termination. The schedules of the planning process described in Table 1-4 and the timing of studies should be compatible with each other.
To Accomplish Its Goals, MMS Needs to Strengthen its in-house expertise in socioeconomic disciplines, especially outside of Alaska.
The scientific expertise of MMS's regional staff matches (at least approximately) the mix of studies that the regions fund. Especially outside of Alaska, additional regional scientific staff will be needed to develop credible and useful studies of economics, sociology, cultural anthropology, and political science. Developing credible socioeconomics programs outside of Alaska will require an increase in funding for socioeconomic studies.
MMS should establish a process to identify, in general terms, the socioeconomics information it needs and a process to translate that description into a program of studies.
The above recommendation is simple, but it is important. Because it is not yet clear to anyone, including members of the panel, exactly what information is needed in each region outside of Alaska, it is essential that MMS develop a credible process to determine its needs, as it did in Alaska. Without that process, its studies will be unfocused, perhaps irrelevant, and difficult to defend. Despite numerous conversations, meetings, and informal interactions with MMS personnel at all levels of the organization, the panel did not obtain a clear indication of what socioeconomic information the agency believes it needs, even though officials frequently stated that MMS needs information for decision making. There are actually two questions involved in the relationship between information and decision making. First, what have been, or probably will be, the effects of a particular action? Second, are these effects great enough to warrant postponement, cancellation, or alteration of a proposed action? Only the first question can be addressed by scientific research. For practical purposes, the effects of OCS activities must be limited to a reasonable agenda. A process to accomplish this would assess the agency's national and local information needs and the ability of the scientific community to supply the data. Then it will be possible to define specific national and local research agendas. The basics of one approach to this process are outlined below. It is similar to, although more extensive than, the one used to develop the Alaska Socioeconomics Studies Program.
Delineate the generic socioeconomic information needs of the agency. Start by holding workshops or meetings between MMS personnel and members of the scientific community knowledgeable about OCS activities. (The Pacific Region made this start with a workshop held in
1989 (MMS, 1991e).) The first meetings should be appropriately broad. The focus should not be on whether there have been or could be specific effects as a result of OCS activities, but rather on what effects could be included for consideration in a research agenda and what methods exist to assess them. This first step would identify the broad dimensions of a research agenda in a cooperative venture between MMS and the scientific community.
Delineate regional variations that should further define the research effort in the various regions and subregions. For example, as noted above, a large OCS oil or gas discovery in Alaska would probably affect every resident of the state, even if development were environmentally invisible. (As an illustration, North Slope oil revenues constitute a significant portion of the budgets of the state and of nearly every resident of Alaska.) A large discovery near a large, economically and socially diverse population like that in southern California would probably not affect all—or even most—residents unless there were a major spill or a major environmental problem such as air pollution. Thus, it is immediately clear that socioeconomic concerns would be substantially different in two such areas. How would a discovery affect a relatively small, isolated population like that of California's north coast or a larger, but still relatively isolated, population like that of the Florida Keys? What can be learned from experiences in other places?
Another question might be the extent to which the total economic and social base is tied to the biophysical environment. Although the coastal environment is extremely important to residents of eastern Massachusetts, it might not be as central to their activities as the coast is in Bristol Bay, Alaska. It surely is less central to the residents of New York City. In other words, an oil spill or the presence of oil platforms might affect every resident of Bristol Bay or the Florida Keys, because the perceived quality of the environment is so central to people's economic and recreational activities there.
With the broad considerations in hand, regional workshops or meetings between the appropriate MMS personnel, knowledgeable members of the scientific community, and members of the affected public should narrow the focus of the regional research agenda and allow priorities to be set. Again, until the agenda is set forth conceptually, individual studies should probably not be considered except as examples.
It is essential to involve the public at this stage. Although the public will not set the research agenda directly, nobody knows better than they what their concerns, fears, hopes, expectations, and values are. Thus, MMS might learn from the exercise that one concern is that roads will be built in an area used for recreation. Knowing that would allow MMS to study ways to avoid or minimize such an effect. On the other hand, MMS might learn that the public is opposed to the industrialization of an area that would attend the extraction of oil and gas from the adjacent outer continental shelf. In such a case, mitigation might be more difficult or even impossible, but at least MMS would have valuable information to provide to decision makers. The information could lead to identification of appropriate compensation and to relevant studies of the affected area and others.
Translate the narrowed research agenda into specific studies in order of priority. Some expertise, and a better understanding of social science issues, should result from the first two steps. However, cooperation with the scientific community is still desirable here. Workshops, conferences, seminars, the use of consultants, or combinations there of would be useful. In this, as well as all other stages of the process, MMS should take advantage of the experience and expertise of its scientific committee and regional technical working groups.
Review and revise standard MMS funding criteria and explore creative funding strategies for smaller studies. During its association with the Environmental Studies Program, it has
become evident to the panel that MMS's standard funding procedures are inadequate for areas other than Alaska. Social science research is less likely than other kinds of studies to make the funding cut-off under the funding criteria MMS uses. Those criteria are most responsive to potential litigation, and, outside of Alaska, effects on the human environment have seldom ended up in the courts. Even when these studies do make the cut-off, problems still exist. Some requests for proposals issued over the past several years under the standard MMS format have not resulted in funded studies. It is not clear whether this is due to the lack of a process for identifying appropriate projects by MMS or an inability of the scientific community to respond to MMS's requests. Recent social science research funded by MMS through the university initiatives in the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific regions are examples of a potentially effective funding mechanism. Although they are regionally focused, they might benefit by being opened to proposals from researchers from any part of the country.
Use the full range of social science methods in designing specific studies. These options include empirical research, often involving surveys and questionnaires, with the attendant necessity of OMB approval. Secondary data analysis and the community studies that have been characteristic of past MMS research also are valuable tools and should be continued.
The most important point in the process outlined above is that a generic research agenda, at least in some regions, must be established before specific studies can be evaluated in light of MMS's information needs. Although Alaska's program was developed as the result of a workshop that involved the scientific community, it too would benefit from additional thoughtful participation from the scientific community and the public.
Scientific integrity is a prerequisite for success. Clarification of what this means is essential. At least part of the origin of the disagreements between MMS's management and the scientists who advise MMS on its work or criticize it stems from mutual misunderstanding about the different kinds of knowledge the two groups require. Those disagreements lead to disagreements about what methods should be used and what standards should be adopted.
The Minerals Management Service is not the National Science Foundation; it is not equipped or expected to produce new or fundamental knowledge that has no apparent relationship to its mission. Such discoveries can occur as a result of research focused on MMS's missions, but they are not a prerequisite for research to be useful to MMS. In addition, publication of research results in peer-reviewed journals lends credibility to any program, but not all the information MMS needs is necessarily of broad academic interest. Although peer-reviewed publication should continue to be encouraged by MMS and is extremely desirable in general, it is not a necessary or sufficient criterion for evaluating the usefulness of any particular piece of research to MMS. However, even if the information is not intended for publication, it should be subjected to the same tests of scientific quality that apply to published material.
Research intended to identify, define, and solve problems—policy-relevant research—is the kind of research that MMS needs to support. Collection and maintenance of long-term environmental observations, such as weather or stream-flow records, is an important element of this kind of research. Information about the distribution, abundance, and feeding habits of various species and measurements of currents for assessing the likely paths of oil and other discharges are examples from ecology and physical oceanography. In the social sciences, examples would include gathering demographic data to characterize the nature and trends of local populations, including migratory habits and patterns; cultural baseline studies to reveal who and what might be at risk in the event of
disruptions caused by development; attitude and value surveys; and social and economic analyses of current and likely future effects in a locality or region, including effects on basic labor, occupational safety, health, and education. An essential part of this kind of research is monitoring. Monitoring should be used to determine trends and to assess the effects of policy and practice. The monitoring of the effects of policies, projects, and regulations is sadly deficient among government agencies in many areas of concern.
The Minerals Management Service must trust and use the socioeconomic information collected through the Environmental Studies Program, both to inform decision making and to refine its research program. Other interested parties must trust and use the information as well, or it will have limited usefulness. The establishment of a scientifically credible program is a prerequisite to the development of confidence in the information.
Scientific inquiry is itself a process, and quick answers to questions and solutions to problems are often not possible. No matter how well MMS's research agenda is defined, complete knowledge is not possible, nor is it a reasonable expectation. Progress, however, is. Deciding what factors warrant postponement, cancellation, or alteration of plans for OCS activities is not a scientific process. Identifying and describing concerns, questions, information gaps, and mitigation measures should be a scientific process.
The Minerals Management Service must recognize that government officials have viewpoints—sometimes many viewpoints—and that there is no particular reason to expect the government view to be understood or even widely shared by other—especially if the others are far removed or culturally diverse. In other words, the officials' understandings and definitions of OCS issues and problems—and solutions to them—are as much based on those persons' perceptions, biases, culture, and experience as are those of any other affected person or community. It is important that MMS recognize and understand this.
The process described above will require time, patience, commitment, and some additional money to develop a viable research program. However, MMS has demonstrated by its actions in Alaska—and to some degree by aspects of its biological and physical studies elsewhere—that it is capable of success and that success need not take decades or require an enormous increase in its budget. To date, the alternatives have not worked very well.