When Chennat Gopalakrishnan describes the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill as “a messy problem,” he’s not talking about oil slicks and tar balls. With tens of thousands of decision variables and interlocking criteria and constraints, determining how best to proceed is a complex and unstructured management undertaking.
The University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa professor of natural resources and environmental management tackled the issue with former UH colleague Jason Levy, now an associate professor of homeland security and emergency preparedness at Virginia Commonwealth University. They used analytic network process, a decision support system designed for multiple criteria decision analysis. ANP uses paired comparisons to weigh interdependent elements to derive priorities and rank alternatives.
The researchers interviewed environmentalists, officials and Gulf Coast stakeholders about alternative measures (restitution payments to those affected by the spill, increased use of dispersants, construction of off-shore sand barriers to minimize oil encroachment, restoration of wetlands) and criteria (social impact, environmental effects, economic consequences, safety issues).
“Results show that it is essential to not only cleanup the oil, but also to remediate all environmental damage and improve Gulf Coast ecosystems,” they write in the July 2010 Journal of Natural Resources Policy Research.
Reviewing the causes, response and impact of the spill and the responsibilities of various parties in the disaster, the authors call on the presidential commission appointed to investigate the spill to make credible recommendations focused on the public interest to correct problems that gave rise to the spill.