Research to Advance Health, Environment, and Oil System Safety in the Gulf of Mexico and Other Coastal Regions
In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire caused the release of approximately 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The oil spill was the largest in U.S. history and it caused significant impacts on the Gulf environment and people. As part of legal settlements with the companies involved, the federal government asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to establish a new 30-year research program focused on human health, environmental protection and oil system safety in the Gulf region.
What is the purpose of the program?
The agreements negotiated by the Department of Justice call for NAS to establish a new science program focused on “human health and environmental protection in the Gulf of Mexico and on the United States’ outer continental shelf, including issues relating to offshore oil drilling and hydrocarbon production and transportation.” The program will carry out studies, projects, and other activities that take advantage of the nation’s scientific, engineering, and health communities.
The settlement agreement identifies three program objectives:
- environmental monitoring
- research and development
- education and training
Activities are to be “determined solely by NAS” and “selected based on scientific merit and integrity, with emphasis on freedom of inquiry and independent nonpartisan advice and recommendations.”
How will the program operate?
The first step is careful planning to determine how the program can be most effective. Program planning will be led by an advisory group charged to develop a vision for the program. The group will help interpret the settlement agreement language, interact with relevant stakeholders to learn about potential needs, articulate broad opportunities, and develop the program’s architecture. They will identify strategic directions, mission, and objectives to ensure that the program has a significant, long-term impact. The advisory group will begin work in May 2013. There will be opportunities for people to contribute ideas, including “virtual opportunities.”
How much money will the program manage and over what time span?
The program will total $500 million ($350M from BP and $150M from Transocean). The funds will be received over 5 years and must be disbursed within 30 years. The 30-year time horizon presents an extraordinary opportunity to use science and technology to tackle large, complex issues at the regional scale.
What are key elements of the program?
We’ve identified some initial guiding principles - the program will be:
- Focused on long-term opportunities
- Transparent, with an open planning process that engages a range of stakeholders interested in Gulf region science, health, and engineering
- Strategic, with a focus on achieving lasting impact
What is the geographic focus of the program?
Program activities will focus on the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf regions. Work that transfers knowledge to or from other offshore U.S. or international hydrocarbon-producing regions is included in the mandate.
Who will be involved?
The program will involve scientists, engineers, health experts, educators, and others from throughout the United States, the Gulf region, and relevant other countries in a variety of ways. Guidance and oversight will be provided by the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council, known collectively as “The National Academies.” We are a private, non-profit organization chartered by Congress in 1863 to provide independent, expert advice to the nation.
Where can I find more information?
More information can be found at www.nas.edu/gulfprogram. You can find related reports from the NAS, NAE, IOM, and NRC through the National Academies Press website, www.nap.edu, where you can download full PDFs for free. Suggested titles include:
- Macondo Well Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Offshore Drilling Safety (2011);
- Evaluating the Effectiveness of Offshore Safety and Environmental Management Systems (2012);
- Effectiveness of Safety and Environmental Management Systems for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Operations: Interim Report (2011);
- Approaches for Ecosystem Services Valuation for the Gulf of Mexico After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Interim Report (2011); and
- Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: Summary of June 2010 Workshop (2010).
Register to receive e-updates on program activities here.