Student Looks at U.S. Offshore Oil Drilling Policy as Part of Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program

Posted: November 15, 2010 at 1:02 am, Last Updated: November 12, 2010 at 2:23 pm

By Tara Laskowski

When British Petroleum’s (BP) Deepwater Horizon oil spill erupted in fire after an underwater explosion last April, it released nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico — and led government and international politics major Hollis Beckner to hunt for ways to prevent it from happening again.

As part of Mason’s Undergraduate Apprenticeship Program, Beckner worked with Guido Cervone, assistant professor of environmental science and policy, on a research project evaluating the policies and technologies of oil drilling.

“I have a firm grasp of the policy-making process and a good understanding of the area as it relates to social policy; however I have had little to no exposure with scientific and technical policy,” Beckner says. “Examining this unfamiliar application of my education seemed like it would be a valuable and challenging opportunity.”

Beckner, a junior with a minor in public policy and management, looked at the ways corporations interacted with the federal government and how the interests of the two parties were balanced.

Using the BP oil spill as a case study, Beckner identified the current policy determinants — financial incentives given to big industries, the way upfront benefits balance (or don’t balance) out long-term costs, and risk management — and developed new policy models that she believes are economically and environmentally responsible.

“I’m very proud of the work Ms. Beckner has performed, and I think she will benefit greatly from this research,” says Cervone. “The undergraduate apprenticeship is a unique opportunity to expose young students to real-world research.”

As a result of her research, Beckner recommends that regulation should be placed with a single, centralized agency — not scattered throughout many agencies — to create consistency in monitoring technology, mandating safety mechanisms and enforcing regulations. She also believes the most important revision to current policy should be to create uniform standards for oil industry procedures, disaster plans and federal inspections.

“A thorough restructuring of the oil drilling leasing, inspection and disaster response models could completely revolutionize domestic oil production in a manner that protects the public, the environment and the federal government, while still preserving the industry,” says Beckner.

“These changes would better prepare the United States for the future of oil production and the future of the industry sector — and would protect against future disasters.”

Beckner would like to pursue a career in public policy, and says her real passion is social policy. She hopes to meet with local elected leaders and present her work on this project.

“I understand this area of research is politically charged and extremely complicated to navigate, but I believe my research is useful and revealing, even if only as an educational tool.”

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