The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Gulf Research Program
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Program Initiatives
As outlined in the Gulf Research Program's strategic vision released in 2014, offshore oil and gas operations generate scientific, social, and environmental challenges for both the Gulf region and other coastal regions. Addressing these challenges requires a long-term and multi-faceted approach. For the GRP, this means increasing the size and scope of our investments and supporting a strategic and mission-driven portfolio of activities.

In 2015, the GRP developed four initiatives to characterize the program's main areas of interest:
Each initiative is focused on a long-term outcome that is critical to the GRP's mission and goals, and the GRP will use the initiatives to build on the strengths of the Academies and to guide the development of a portfolio of grants, fellowships, and other activities with cumulative and lasting impact. The program's initiatives characterize key challenges at the interface of human, environmental, and off-shore energy systems and they seek to address a broad and overlapping set of issues through research and development, monitoring and synthesis, and education and capacity building. As the program matures, these program initiatives will evolve to meet new challenges.


Offshore Oil and Gas
Reducing Risk in Offshore Oil and Gas Operations
Helping to make offshore operations safer for people and the environment

Comprehensive risk awareness can help both industry and regulators to better anticipate, reduce, and avoid risks in the offshore oil and gas environment. In collaboration with others, the GRP is working to identify risk-management approaches that can prevent oil spills, loss of life, and harmful exposures related to offshore oil and gas drilling, production, and transportation.

Our Approach
  • Encourage collaboration among industry, regulatory, and academic communities to better understand and communicate the nature of systemic risks in the offshore environment and ultimately help to instill an industry-wide culture of safety.
  • Develop, test, and implement educational and training approaches to help organizations and individuals develop a strong culture of safety that is fundamental to avoiding risks in offshore operations.
  • Identify, promote, and fund fundamental research to spur innovation and reduce and manage risk. Our current areas of interest include human factors and safety culture research, operations research on risk and decision making, research to understand fundamental scientific processes at play, and technical improvements for preventing and responding to large and small oil leaks and spills.

Featured Activities

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Healthy Ecosystems
Observation and Monitoring for Healthy Ecosystems and Coastal Communities
Helping people understand and plan for a changing environment with long-term data, observations, and information

Managers and decision makers can better anticipate and mitigate environmental change and community and ecosystem disruptions with timely, accurate observation and monitoring information. We are working with others to improve how researchers and practitioners collect, interpret, and use monitoring and observing information. Our current areas of interest include the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico, coastal community resilience, and environmental restoration.

Our Approach
  • Identify, promote, and fund monitoring, research, and synthesis activities to better understand and track how offshore oil and gas development affects ecosystems and communities (including environmental, social, economic, and health dimensions).
  • Develop more efficient, effective tools and methods to collect and interpret monitoring and observing data, and to translate these data into information that decision makers can use to protect and restore living resources and to enhance community resilience.
  • Convene activities and support research to foster the exchange of information among observing networks in U.S. outer continental shelf regions. This includes identifying shared priorities and standardized indicators to track how offshore oil and gas development influences the human communities and ecosystems.

Featured Activities
  • 2016 Synthesis Grants: Scientific synthesis connecting environmental, social, and/or health data to improve monitoring of human impacts of offshore oil and gas development or to improve health risk and exposure assessment.
  • 2015 Consensus Study: Effective Monitoring to Evaluate Ecological Restoration in the Gulf of Mexico (report released in July 2016).
  • 2015 Synthesis Grants: Synthesis of existing environmental monitoring data to inform efforts to restore and maintain the Gulf of Mexico’s ecosystem services or enhance understanding of the Deep Gulf or its physical and biological connectivity to coastal communities
  • 2014 Environmental Monitoring Opportunity Analysis Workshop

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Resilient Coastal Communities
Planning and Action for Healthy and Resilient Coastal Communities
Strengthening the capacity of coastal communities facing adverse environmental challenges to effectively respond, adapt, and thrive

Natural disasters, climate change impacts, and other environmental stressors, such as those resulting from oil spills, present complex challenges to the health and well-being of coastal communities and to the integrity of the environments upon which they depend. In collaboration with others, the GRP will support the work of researchers, communities, and public- and private-sector actors to enhance the resilience of coastal communities to the adverse impacts of environmental challenges in ways that also improve well-being.

Our Approach
  • Improve the quality and accessibility of information about how to minimize harm from oil spills to people and communities, through research, synthesis, and translation of research.
  • Strengthen the science and practice of resilience through research and capacity building that explores the health, social, economic, and environmental contexts of communities associated with offshore oil and gas producing regions in the U.S. and that identifies strategies that can be implemented at the community level to minimize risks and strengthen resilience.
  • Foster the development of processes, policies, tools, and approaches that can be used by local and state leaders, researchers, industry, and community organizations to improve responses to environmental challenges in ways that also improve the well-being of coastal residents.

Featured Activities
  • 2017 Research and Practice Grants: This is a broad call for scientifically-valid research and practice projects that will develop information, test strategies, and provide evidence that can be used by communities to enhance their resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change, severe weather, and major environmental disasters, in ways that also improve well-being. (Developed and funded in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation)
  • 2016 Exploratory Grants: Helping communities affected by offshore oil and gas operations plan for, mitigate, and adapt to environmental change
  • 2016 Capacity Building Grants: Enhancing community networks that improve coastal environments, health, and well-being
  • 2014 Community Resilience and Health Opportunity Analysis Workshop

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Capacity to Address Cross-boundary Challenges
Building Capacity to Address Cross-boundary Challenges
Enhancing resources and human capital by bridging disciplines, sectors, and geographical boundaries
Collaboration and communication among individuals in communities, industry, universities, and the public sector are essential to understanding and addressing the interwoven scientific, social, and environmental challenges associated with offshore oil and gas operations. By supporting the development of new approaches, tools, and education and training experiences, the GRP seeks to foster cross-boundary leadership and capacity for solving complex challenges in coastal regions along the U.S. outer continental shelf.

Our Approach
  • Enhance leadership and decision-making capabilities in professions related to offshore oil and gas development, ecosystem and public health protection, and community planning and development through education and training.
  • Develop capacity for scientific syntheses in which research and analyses routinely cross scientific disciplines.
  • Assess and enhance capacity to translate scientific information to inform policy decisions at local, state, and federal levels.
  • Support research, education, and other activities that engage communities, including those that represent underrepresented and vulnerable populations, to address complex scientific, social, and environmental challenges that directly affect them.

Featured Activities

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Photo credits (from top to bottom): ©iStock/nielubieklonu; NASA image courtesy Norman Kuring, Ocean Color Team; ©iStock/stretchc; Photograph by Kelly M. Darnell