On 20 April 2010, the Deep Water Horizon (DWH) drilling rig operating approximately 50 miles (80 km) off the coast of Louisiana experienced a catastrophic failure that resulted in the release of petroleum (oil and gas) and subsequent explosion and fire, the ultimate sinking of the rig, and a discharge of gas and light sweet crude oil from an ocean depth of nominally 5000 feet (1525 m). This tragic event was overshadowed with the loss of 11 men who were working on the rig at the time of the explosion.
Mission of Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) will investigate the impacts of the oil, dispersed oil, and dispersant on the ecosystems of the Gulf of Mexico and affected coastal States in a broad context of improving fundamental understanding of the dynamics of such events and their environmental stresses and public health implications. The GoMRI will also develop improved spill mitigation, oil and gas detection, characterization and remediation technologies.
The ultimate goal of the GoMRI will be to improve society’s ability to understand, respond to and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors of the marine and coastal ecosystems, with an emphasis on conditions found in the Gulf of Mexico. Knowledge accrued will be applied to restoration and to improving the long-term environmental health of the Gulf of Mexico.
On May 24, 2010, shortly after the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, BP announced a commitment of up to $500 million over 10 years to fund an independent research program designed to study the impact of the oil spill and its associated response on the environment and public health in the Gulf of Mexico. As part of the Year 1 funding, five initial studies were commissioned to establish critical baseline data as the foundation for subsequent research. These initial research grants included:
- $10 million to Louisiana State University
- $10 million to the Florida Institute of Oceanography hosted by the University of South Florida
- $10 million to the Northern Gulf Institute, a consortium led by Mississippi State University
- $5 million to the Alabama Marine Environmental Sciences Consortium
- $10 million to the National Institutes of Health
To ensure continuity of observations and sampling while the peer-review process was underway, the GoMRI issued $1.5 million in grants in June of 2011. On August 30th, in response to RFP-I, eight research consortia were awarded $110 million over three years to study the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico. All lead institutions for the consortia are located in Gulf States. RFP-II funded 19 research projects, totaling $18.5 million over three years, focused on activities involving individual or collaborative efforts addressing the GoMRI research themes.
The guiding principles of the GoMRI maintain that the $500 million committed by BP will be level-loaded over a period of ten years for independent scientific research conducted primarily at academic institutions in the U.S. Gulf Coast States. However, institutions from outside the Gulf region, as well as for profit entities, will be welcome to participate. Also, the funds will be distributed using peer evaluations (National Science Board Process) and will be used strictly for research activities such as sampling, modeling and studies, not acquisition of infrastructure. And finally, all research will be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals with no requirement for BP approval.
To ensure scientific integrity, GoMRI uses National Science Board peer evaluation protocols to select funded research. Independent reviews are performed by scientific peers, not affiliated with institutions who propose projects or with BP to avoid conflicts of interest in the selection of funded research. All peer reviewers sign conflict of interest and non-disclosure agreements. BP has no role in the peer review process or selection of awards.
Individual GoMRI researchers will comply with professional standards as defined by the National Academies of Science. All GoMRI researchers conduct independent and objective research with no influence from BP. Results are published in peer reviewed scientific journals with no requirement for BP approval. Scientific results from GoMRI-funded research may be posted to the GoMRI website after peer review or publication.