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Colleen Sullivan's M.S. Degree, 2012

Assessment of the Potential for Conflict between Existing Ocean Space Use and Renewable Energy Development off the Coast of Oregon

Master of Science, Geography, Oregon State University, Spring, 2012
Geographic Information Science Certificate

Graduate committee: D. Wright, F. Conway, J. Jones, Y. Spitz

Colleen Sullivan
College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State Univ
Corvallis, OR 97331-5503

Oregon’s ocean waters are a potential source of wind, wave, and tidal energy; of interest to renewable energy entrepreneurs and to the U.S. government as it seeks to bolster energy security. In order to install technology to capture this energy, however, it may be necessary to mitigate conflict with existing ocean space users. The objective of this research was to construct a conflict analysis model in a GIS to answer the following research questions: (1) Within the study area off the coast of Oregon, where are stakeholders currently using ocean space and how many uses overlap? (2) To what extent might existing ocean space use present potential for conflict with renewable energy development? (3) How do various types of uncertainty affect analysis results? (4) What are the implications of these findings for ecosystem based management of the ocean?

All available spatial information on ocean space usage by commercial fishing, commercial non-fishing, recreational, Native American, and scientific communities was gathered. Stakeholder outreach with these communities was used to vet the collected data and allow each to contribute knowledge not previously available through GIS data clearinghouses maintained by government or interest groups. The resulting data were used as inputs to a conflict visualization model written in Python and imported to an ArcGIS tool. Results showed extensive coverage and overlap of existing ocean space uses; specifically that 99.7% of the 1-nm2 grid cells of the study area are occupied by at least 6 different categories of ocean space use. The six uses with the greatest coverage were: Fishing – Trolling, Habitat, Military, Fishing - Closure Areas, Protected, and Marine Transportation - Low Intensity. An uncertainty analysis was also completed to illustrate the margin for error and therefore the necessity of appropriate stakeholder outreach during the renewable energy siting process, as opposed to relying only on a GIS.

Ranking of each category by its potential for conflict with renewable energy development demonstrated which areas of the ocean may be particularly contentious. Because rankings are subjective, the tool was created to allow users to input their own rankings. For the purpose of this report, default rankings were assigned to each as justified by the literature. Results under these assumptions showed that space use and potential for conflict were highest between the coast and approximately 30 nm at sea. This is likely because certain space use is limited by depth (e.g., recreational use); there is increased shipping density as vessels approach and depart major ports; and increased fuel costs associated with traveling further from shore.

Two potential applications of model results were demonstrated. First, comparison with existing wave energy permit sites highlighted relative potential for conflict among the sites and the input data detailed the specific uses present. Second, comparison with areas determined most suitable for development by the wave energy industry illustrated that areas of high suitability often also had high rankings for potential for conflict. It appeared that the factors that determined development suitability were often the same factors that drew current ocean space users to those locations.

Current support at the state, regional and federal level under the National Ocean Policy for the use of marine spatial planning as a tool to implement ecosystem based management of the oceans requires that tools such as the one developed in this research are used, to ensure that all components of the marine ecosystem are considered prior to implementation of a management plan. The addition of renewable energy to the current social landscape of the ocean will reduce the resource base for many categories of ocean space use. Model results demonstrated that mitigation of conflict between development and existing space use is not merely a best practice supported by current policy, but a necessity. Results presented a visualization of the social landscape of the ocean that could help managers determine which stakeholders to engage during the initial stage of choosing a site for development.

Download Thesis (4.6 Mb PDF file)
Download GIS data and Python scripts (715 Kb zip file)
Presentation at Defense (9.0 Mb PDF file)

Also available in the ScholarsArchive@OSU permanent collection

Final report of BOEM project that funded her thesis: Identification of Outer Continental Shelf Renewable Energy Space-Use Conflicts and Analysis of Potential Mitigation Measures

Peer-reviewed journal article in Applied Geography, 2015: Combining geographic information systems and ethnography to better understand and plan ocean space use

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