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 research 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 settlement agreement identifies three program objectives:
research and development
education and training
The NAS-NAE-IOM-NRC Gulf Research Program will carry out studies, projects, and other activities that take advantage of the nation's scientific, engineering, and health communities. 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 the program's strategic focus -- what will we do to fulfill our assigned mission and have lasting impact? Program planning is led by an Advisory Group charged to think carefully about vision, mission, and objectives and write a strategic plan that guides the program's initial activities. The Advisory Group is hosting a series of meetings to interact with agencies, universities, and organizations at the federal and state levels who are also involved in post-Deepwater Horizon science in the Gulf Coast region and develop an understanding of existing activities and perceived needs. The strategic plan will be available in spring 2014.
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?
Some initial guiding principles for the program are:
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 where human communities, ecosystems, and energy production co-exist. Work that transfers knowledge to or from other places in the United States or other nations is included in the mandate.
Who is involved?
Program planning is led by an appointed Advisory Group. Oversight is 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. Activities 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.