Gulf oil spill: BP grants $500 million for independent research
Some experts wonder how 'independent' BP's grants for Gulf oil spill research on ecosystem damage and recovery will be. But so far, it looks like the money comes with no strings attached.
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"The money came as an unrestricted block grant," says Chris D'Elia, dean of the university's School of the Coast and Environment. "We can do whatever we want with it, as long as we have a peer-review process involved. That's clearly an indication that we pretty much have carte blanch to do what we feel is necessary."Skip to next paragraph
The school has made it clear that BP is free to suggest studies "because it's closest to the situation," D'Elia adds. Moreover, it's likely that outside scientists and BP will have some set of questions in common that they'd like to see addressed. "But BP is not compelling us to follow their guidance" and the school does not view any BP suggestions in a way that requires the university's scientists to follow BP's lead.
BP's hands-off approach even applies to reporting requirements that usually accompany research grants, adds Michael Carron, chief scientist for the Northern Gulf Institute, a research consortium involving five regional universities but with ties to a range of research organizations from the European Space Agency and NOAA to other universities spread throughout the US and Canada. The institute is administering $10 million in BP quick-start money.
"Normally, if we get a grant from NOAA, we send them a bill every month, how many hours of work, and so on," he says. BP basically gave us the money, no strings attached. There's no pre-approval on the research we're going to fund. And there's no pre-approval on any of the publications" of results.
Publishing the results
In fact, he adds, BP requires that the results be published in refereed journals.
Although BP is asking for a heads-up on the publication date when research results have been accepted for publication, or when data are released to the public, "there is no intellectual-property requirement at all. No pre-reviews, no pre-approvals, nothing."
That's not to say BP didn't raise the issue of pre-publication review in discussions about the quick-start money, Dr. Carron acknowledges. But when the company raised the point, "the scientists said: We won't take the money."
The big question, however, is the extent to which these principles are extended to the remaining $475 million.
Indeed, several researchers say they are at least as wary of political hands skewing research priorities as they are of any BP fingerprints on the results.
The day BP announced it's intention to dole out the quick-start money, the White House announced BP's agreement to set up a $20 billion escrow fund to offset economic damage to the Gulf Coast from the blow-out. At the same time, the Obama administration required BP to work with state governments in the region in determining how the research money will be spent.
Now, says one long-time marine scientist, is looks as though BP's research money "has been co-opted by the Gulf coast governors."