Eugene Han was just eleven-years-old when the Deepwater Horizon oil spill occurred. Then, he remembers just briefly seeing the headlines. But this summer, as an intern for Mark Templeton, director of the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, he became intimately knowledgeable about the spill and the set of regulations it spurred.
“It is a great thing about being at the University of Chicago,” says Templeton, who previously served as one of the three independent trustees for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Trust, the $20 billion fund BP set up after the spill to pay for property damages, loss of income, damages to natural resources, and government response costs. “We get to work with very smart, committed, and interested students who can learn from working with us, but who also can support our research a lot. Eugene and I have had an incredibly productive and fruitful summer, and Eugene has become an expert about this set of materials in a way that few others are.”
Han, a junior at the University of Chicago studying environmental studies, is working with Templeton to decipher what has happened since the spill and what regulatory changes have been made. His research will be compiled into a policy brief about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill to align with the 10-year anniversary of the spill. The policy brief is part of a larger project Templeton is working on to understand energy infrastructure investments and their associated risks.
“I have been learning how the government is coming to terms with regulating a major, lucrative industry and how those regulations are shaping the availability of oil and gas in this country. And more importantly, our energy independence goals,” says Han. “Many people aren’t aware of the offshore industry because activities are concentrated in the Gulf and some parts of Alaska. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the nation’s first wake up call to the dangers and risks of the industry. Unfortunately, our interest has relapsed since then, and the Trump administration has promulgated regulations that could increase the chances of another major oil spill. We hope the policy brief will stimulate interest among the average American citizen and be a call to action to reject some of Trump’s changes.”
Han’s research has involved learning and understanding the technical aspects of offshore drilling in order to be able to understand previous regulations and the impacts of regulatory changes made by the Obama and Trump administrations. Through the course of this research, he created a detailed set of tables highlighting regulatory changes and dug into offshore oil industry agreements. He then compared changes in the agreement over time to determine the motivations and the implications for those changes for parties and their multimillion-dollar investments.
Templeton hopes the brief will help provide good policy reasons to reject President Trump’s rollbacks of the Obama administration’s changes.
“Industry response has been inadequate. I believe they can do better,” says Templeton. “As we are coming up on the 10th anniversary, we go from disaster to disaster, some more publicized than others. We need to determine the right policy solution we should have in place as we weigh the risks and rewards.”
After graduating, Han plans to go to law school, and he prioritized working in the clinic as his first step into the legal field.
Reflecting on their work together, Han noted, “Mark has been the perfect mentor. I came to learn so much from Mark, starting off with his legal lexicon and his knowledge about all these things. I am really appreciative that he is taking the time to value my work. I would not want to work anywhere else this summer.”