University Gets $8.2 Million from BP, Others for Oil Spill Research

(Click to enlarge) Credit: CAITLYN CONDON / The Daily Reveille

As the smoke settled and oil spewed from the remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, a rat race of academics began to seek funding to quantify the disaster.

(From Daily Isureveille / by Xerxes A. Wilson) — Nine months later, more than $8.2 million has been awarded to the University to conduct research in the aftermath.

A large chunk of the funding comes directly from BP. Initially, the oil giant responsible for the spill pledged $10 million to the University for the next decade.

The University was given $5 million last year and has awarded about $2.5 million to researchers thus far, according to Matthew Lee, interim associate vice chancellor of the Office of Research and Economic Development.

In the initial round of funding last year, the committee drafted a request for proposals netting 71 requests for funding. The committee had the proposals peer-reviewed and eventually awarded about $2 million for about 10 separate projects, according to Lee.

The University is now sorting through a batch of 41 other proposals and will try to award most of the remaining funds of the original $5 million BP stipend, Lee said.

The University has also received about $3 million in funding from various other sources.

Lee said he wasn’t sure exactly when the University will see the other $5 million BP originally pledged, but he expected it would come in installments in the next decade.

FUTURE FUNDING

BP has pledged $500 million in total for universities and organizations across the Gulf states to study the effects of the oil spill. About $450 million has yet to be awarded, and the University is working to get its share.

BP has yet to define the mechanism for awarding these funds, Lee said.

Similar to the way the University is appropriating the BP money it receives, Lee said he anticipates BP to make about $50 million available for universities and organizations to compete for in the near future.

Lee said the University is trying to form a consortium with the University of New Orleans, the University of Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane University to compete for future funding.

LSU School of the Coast and Environment Dean Christopher D’Elia said LSU will be competitive because of its past expertise.

“LSU’s main selling point is we have extensive experience with the energy industry,” D’Elia said. “We have extensive knowledge and experience with the energy industry, and we have one of the better working relationships with them.”

Shortly after the spill and BP’s pledge to fund research, there was an outcry of concern that the oil giant would control research and spin data in its favor. But this has not been the case, according to LSU faculty leaders.

“We are lucky to have that money because that’s the money we are using to do the best studies we can, and BP is keeping their hands off,” D’Elia said. “I haven’t seen any interference with them with the $40 million that has gotten out to the academic community.”

D’Elia said some of his faculty have privately contracted with BP.

LESSONS LEARNED

While most projects are still in progress, D’Elia said one of the major lessons learned was the academic community is in need of an emergency funding mechanism to study disasters as they happen.

“In the future, when an event like this is occurring, it’s not the time to debate what research should be done and what funds would be available,” D’Elia said. “It should be predetermined that the money will be available, and there should be an orderly process by which the money can be gotten on the street in a hurry.”

Some researchers received National Science Foundation Rapid Response Grants as authorities scrambled to close the well, but Lee said many academics were still running around the coast, charging their own credit cards to collect samples.

“You need to know what things look like immediately after the disaster,” said College of Science Dean Kevin Carman. “The window we largely — not completely — but largely missed was getting out into the field in the days and weeks immediately following the oil spill.”

Carman said the “lion’s share” of funds were not received until the oil stopped flowing.

“This is sort of like a forensic exam in which the criminal act was done six months ago,” D’Elia said. “Then, after six months, we get the resources to go to the crime scene, and the body is decayed and jackals have walked off with bones.”

BUDGET CUTS

Though the grant funds have greatly bolstered colleges’ research coffers, both Carman and D’Elia stressed this is no stopgap for budget cuts.

Research funds have specific purposes and cannot be used to bolster the cost of instruction, Carman said.

“That doesn’t help us with the budget problem,” Carman said. “It hurts it because faculty need administrative personnel and resources, and those resources are diminishing. Over time, we won’t be able to sustain that level of productivity because that loss of infrastructure is beginning to take its toll.”

“GoMRI In the news” is a reposting of articles about GoMRI-funded research (published by various news outlets).  The author’s interpretations and opinions expressed in these articles is not necessarily that of GoMRI.