$1.2 Billion Will Support Gulf Science Programs

In the early days of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, it became apparent that there was a lack of base scientific understanding of the Gulf ecosystem, and how the oil might affect it.

Between the recent BP settlement, the prior criminal penalties and the Transocean settlement, the penalties from the Deepwater Horizon represent the largest slug of funding for restoration the country has ever seen—perhaps as much as $16 billion, when all the sources are put together.

Standing on an oiled marsh island, BP consultants discuss field observations with NOAA’s Natural Resources Damage Assessment team. Photo Credit: NOAA
This funding helps remedy the lack of scientific knowledge about the Gulf. Efforts to improve the state of the science in the Gulf will receive more than $1.2 billion. This is an enormous amount of funding—for a comparison, it is more money than the Land & Water Conservation Fund has received since its inception in 1965. The region is not likely to see this much funding for science again, and these efforts will create the underpinning of comprehensive ecosystem restoration in the Gulf of Mexico.

Here is how each of these new programs aim to meet science needs:

Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative

Researcher Cheng Li designed an acrylic wave tank to study breaking waves and their associated turbulent flows. Photo credit: DROPPS Consortium; Trevor Holmgren
Shortly after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, BP announced a commitment of up to $500 million over 10 years to fund a program for independent research into the impact of the oil spill and the effects on the environment and public health in the Gulf of Mexico. The guiding principles of the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) maintain that the $500 million committed by BP will be evenly distributed over a period of ten years, which means funding will be available for another four years ending in December 2019.

GoMRI research has improved our ability to understand, respond to, and mitigate the impacts of petroleum pollution and related stressors in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. Competitive grants are evaluated and selected by operating principles in a master research agreement.

In order to achieve the GoMRI mission, two rounds of 3-year funding have been awarded to Research Consortia.  These consortia play a critical role in addressing the GoMRI Research Themes, building scientific capacity, and coordinating across disciplines. To learn more about these consortia, click here.

National Academy of Sciences’ Gulf Research Program

The National Academy of Sciences will receive a total of $500 million from BP and Transocean’s criminal fines. Over the next 30 years, the new Gulf Research Program will seek to better understand oil system safety, human health, and the environmental resources and will address three interconnected goals:

  • Fostering innovative improvements to safety technologies, safety culture, and environmental protection systems associated with offshore oil and gas development.
  • Improving understanding of the connections between human health and the environment to support the development of healthy and resilient Gulf communities.
  • Advancing understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system with complex, interconnecting human and environmental systems, functions, and processes to inform the protection and restoration of ecosystem services.

The program has developed a strategic vision document describing some initial activities and setting out the Program’s vision for contributing to the Gulf region and the nation.

NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program

The RESTORE Act could support native fish such as this snook. Photo by Jim Mullhaup via Flickr Creative Commons
The RESTORE Act, which sent 80% of the Clean Water Act fines from the Deepwater Horizon disaster back to the Gulf States, also set up the program known as the NOAA RESTORE Act Science Program. The 2013 Transocean settlement will provide the NOAA Restore Act Science Program with $20 million, and the 2015 BP settlement an additional $110 million, over the better part of two decades.

The program is designed to research, monitor and support the long‐term sustainability of the ecosystem, fish stocks, fish habitat, and the recreational and commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. The program’s long-term research priorities are captured in the Program’s science plan.

This plan also establishes ten long-term research priorities which will guide how the Program invests its funds and explains the process by which these areas of investment were determined.

RESTORE Centers of Excellence

Under the RESTORE Act, 2.5% of the Clean Water Act fines are dedicated to Research Centers of Excellence in each of the five Gulf States. The 2013 Transocean settlement will provide the designated centers with $20 million, and the 2015 BP settlement an additional $110 million. These amounts will be broken down equally amongst each Gulf state ($26M/state).

Under the RESTORE Act, each Center will focus on science, technology, and monitoring in at least one of the following categories:

  • Research and monitoring of important wildlife, such as the endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle pictured here, will be a major focus moving forward.” Photo Credit: US Fish & Wildlife Service
    Coastal and deltaic sustainability, restoration, and protection, including solutions and technology that allow citizens to live in a safe and sustainable manner in a coastal delta in the Gulf region;
  • Coastal fisheries and wildlife ecosystem research and monitoring in the Gulf Coast region;
  • Offshore energy development, including research and technology, to improve the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico;
  • Sustainable and resilient growth, economic and commercial development in the Gulf Coast region
  • Comprehensive observation, monitoring, and mapping.

Continuing Science Based Programs

A lot of dollars are coming to the Gulf region to be spent over the next 30 years for the science needs of the Gulf ecosystem. It is thus imperative that these programs and processes operate in a manner that support one another and minimize duplicative efforts. For a time there was an ad hoc committee coordinating the various science and restoration programs, but no formal mechanism for this coordination currently exists.

The National Wildlife Federation strongly believes that sound science is critical in order to ensure that the Gulf ecosystem is restored to the maximum extent possible.

Donate NowWe’re working on the ground in all five Gulf states making sure BP’s fines are spent on projects that will support Gulf wildlife. Help us continue our work today!