The Dynamical Roles of Oil Spills, Environmental Damage and Activism in the Petroleum Resource Extraction System

Chris Shughrue and BT Werner

Resource extraction results in environmental damage that animates activist resistance against continuing damage, influencing regulation and subsequent extraction. To investigate this quantitatively unexplored aspect of coupled human-environmental systems, a novel agent-based numerical model is described that simulates the economics of oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico, oil spills and environmental damage, activist groups that lobby or carry out direct action, media coverage, evolving public opinion, and legislators that vote for regulations based on lobbying and public opinion. Model results mimic the character of extraction and spills to date, suggest that the history of extraction and spills represents an optimized trade- off between economics and environmental degradation, and indicate that a contemporary cultural shift favoring activism could lessen damage from unconventional (but not conventional) petroleum resources.