(From Fall 2013 Newsletter) Dr. Chuck Wilson, Chief Scientific Officer for the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI), answers a few of the most frequently asked questions about the program.
Question: As a result of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, there is renewed interest and new funding available for scientific research in the Gulf of Mexico. What are some of the new programs coming online and how does GoMRI fit in?
Answer: The Deepwater Horizon oil blowout was a tragic event and the crude oil released made it the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The new funding sources dedicated to scientific research will provide the opportunity to understand the ecological, public health and socio-economic impacts of the disaster and to lead to more effective disaster response in the future.
The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) was implemented to understand the effects of the oil spill. BP committed $500 million over a 10-year period to create the broad, independent research program to be conducted at research institutions primarily in the US Gulf Coast States. GoMRI began in 2010 and is an independent, scientific program that is managed through the Gulf of Mexico Alliance (GOMA) and its subcontractors.
Several new programs are also being funded through the settlement of Federal criminal charges:
In 2013, the National Academies of Science was asked by the Dept. of Justice to establish a research program focused on human health and environmental protection, including issues relating to offshore oil drilling and hydrocarbon production and transportation in the Gulf of Mexico and on the U.S. outer continental shelf. The new NAS Gulf Program is funded by criminal penalties arising from Deepwater Horizon incident, totaling $500 million to be spent within 30 years. The 30 year timeline offers an extraordinary opportunity to support long-term research, development and monitoring.
The RESTORE Act was signed into law in July 2012 and established the Gulf Coast Restoration Trust Fund. Eighty percent of the penalties from violations of the Clean Water Act will go into this fund, which will be allocated to the Gulf States, Restoration activities, a Centers of Excellence Research Grant program and a NOAA Gulf Science Program (see image). The goal of the NOAA Restore Act Science Program is to carry out research, observation, and monitoring to support the long-term sustainability of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational, commercial, and charter fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico. Priority will be given to integrated, long-term projects.
The National Fish and Wildlife Federation also received funds from the settlement that will be used to conduct or fund projects to remedy the resources that were damaged by the oil spill.
These programs are all separate from the Natural Resources Damages Assessment (NRDA) Process, the legal process to determine the type and amount of restoration needed to compensate the public for harm to natural resources and their human uses as a result of the spill. That process is ongoing and more information can be found on NOAA’s Gulf Spill Restoration and the Damage Assessment, Remediation, and Restoration Program (DARRP) webpages.
An important opportunity emerging out of the ongoing and anticipated research and restoration activities is collaboration. All of the above groups are already working together to assure effective communication and information sharing to maximize resource investment and impact.