The U.S Offshore Wind Executive Summit: My Experience

The U.S Offshore Wind Executive Summit: My Experience
2018-10-11

As a current PhD student, here at the School of Law, I am in the process of completing my PhD on the U.K Health, Safety and Environmental Risk Governance Regime for Offshore Marine Renewables.   My recent blog post expands on aspects of my thesis, an earlier version of which can be read here.

I am an Aberdeen alumnus, having studied an LLM in Oil and Gas, and was fortunate to receive the 2014 CASS Research Project Award Scheme (RPAS) PhD Scholarship Offshore Energy Development Project award to assist with my studies. I have been determined to make the most of my PhD experience, beyond simply crafting one hundred thousand words from an office desk. While the final written output is naturally important, and indeed the examinable part of the PhD process, there are aspects of my PhD journey which have enriched my research and final writing, which have made my thesis more than the sum of its parts. One aspect of this has been teaching. Other important aspects have included global travel, to establish networks relevant to my research, and presenting at conferences. This blog post is about my most recent trip: to Houston to speak at the offshore wind executive summit.

I stumbled across the conference online while doing my research and couldn't stop thinking about it. The idea that it was an 'executive summit' somehow appeared beyond my reach. It looked like it was designed for grey-haired industry experts and professors with several years of experience. But then again, I thought to myself, what have I got to lose. So, I applied, and my abstract was accepted. Hurray!!! My excitement was short-lived by the thought of how much it would cost to fly to Houston, book a hotel, feed myself, and deal with any local travel. Fortunately, as a speaker I didn't need to bother about the $600 registration fee, as I received a fee waiver from the conference organisers.

After several weeks of pondering about the cost of the trip, I decided to apply to the Law School for the C.B Davidson fund, created to support international students in their studies. Believe me when I say the life of an international student isn't exactly cheap and such funds do go a long way. Fortunately, my application was successful, and funds were approved for my trip. The story only gets better from here. By happy accident I was given three nights at the Conference Hotel, the Westin Galleria. (The conference date was changed after I'd already booked my travel, so my free accommodation was to compensate for this.)

With my slides prepared and my bags packed, I boarded my flight to Houston. I arrived after a 13 hour flight from Aberdeen, with a brief stop at Schiphol airport Amsterdam. I checked into the hotel and got some food and the much-needed rest.

The conference was well attended by top industry experts, regulators and other stakeholders. We had breakfast (which was provided for us) and the conference began. The first set of speakers gave their keynote speeches which were all focused on the many benefits of offshore wind and how Houston was well positioned to be the offshore wind energy capital of the world. This position is  currently held by the UK. After other sessions on permits and environment protection, it was time for my panel discussion, where I presented on health and safety risks and how they can be regulated.

My paper was entitled “Developing a Robust Offshore Health and Safety Risk Governance Regime: Lessons from the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry”. I spoke first and to break the ice thanked the organisers for having me and for introducing me to some US delights including the `brisket’ and the ‘philly cheese steak’.  It worked - everyone laughed and it set the right mood.

I then went on to share my thoughts on how the focus on maximising offshore wind energy potential, had resulted in less attention being paid to health and safety issues, and in some cases  the ecological risks of developing offshore wind farms. I explained how this situation is not entirely new; we had been here before in the early years of offshore oil and gas exploration, especially in the UK. I argued that to learn from mistakes made previously by the oil and gas industry in this regard, we must promptly develop a robust health and safety risk governance regime. The oil and gas industry have provided both a template and enough lessons to help achieve this. More specifically, I proposed the adoption of the safety case regulatory model. This approach would  provide comprehensive risk assessments and measures of regulatory scrutiny that would foster compliance. I briefly demonstrated my position using the UK, Norway, and the US as case studies. While my presentation was well received by all, at least judging from the applause, I gathered from the interactions afterwards that it appeared the industry was reluctant to accept some of my suggestions because of the cost implications. In response to that, I ended my presentation saying, 'it was better to be safe than sorry'.

I started this post by explaining why doing a PhD should be more than a hundred thousand words and this conference, like many others I have attended and presented at, justifies that point. I know it’s sometimes easier to just sit in the office and engage with materials and resources, but the experience, confidence and network that is gained from attending and presenting at these conferences are what makes the entire PhD experience worthwhile.

I'm grateful for the support from both the School of Law and The University for enabling me to attend such conferences. As I sit here writing this blog post on my return flight from Houston, all I can think of is my family and I certainly can't wait to see them. Aberdeen is calling, my home is calling.

Thanks for reading.

This blog post is by Eddy Wifa a third year doctoral researcher at the University of Aberdeen. His research focusses on the health and safety implications of offshore wind energy development and the significant role both private and public regulation could play in ensuring an appropriate balance between offshore wind energy maximisation and the safety of the workers and other users of the marine space.

Published by School of Law, University of Aberdeen

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