Date of Award

Spring 5-17-2013

Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Urban and Regional Planning


Planning and Urban Studies

Major Professor

Nance, Earthea, PhD

Second Advisor

Ehrenfeucht, Renia, PhD; Birkland, Thomas, PhD


The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico awakened communities to the increased risk of large-scale damage along their coastlines presented by new technology in deep water drilling. Normal accident theory and high reliability theory offer a framework through which to view the 2010 spill that features predictive criteria linked to a qualitative assessment of risk presented by technology and organizations. The 2010 spill took place in a sociotechnical system that can be described as complex and tightly coupled, and therefore prone to normal accidents. However, the entities in charge of managing this technology lacked the organizational capacity to safely operate within this sociotechnical system.


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