BP Oil Spill: Damage Assessment Funding Delayed At Vital Time

Negotiations and other hold-ups have delayed funding for essential research into the BP oil spill’s ecological damage and the snags are preventing necessary springtime ecosystem assessment.

With spring in full swing in the gulf, it’s the time for spawning and nesting, a revealing time for an ecological habitat in recovery. But scientists aren’t able to produce these assessments as funding has not yet been made available this year.

BP has promised a total of $500 million to fund research into the spill’s impact and extract insight into future spill prevention. $50 million was to be handed out every year for ten years. The first portion was given to the National Institute of Health and other research institutions in the Gulf area back in 2010.

The remaining money is still tied up while the overseeing board finalizes decisions about its use. After the announcement is made on Monday about how the remaining $450 million will be spent, it could take months for proposals to be accepted and research to be underway.

One of the scientists from the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative indicated he did not believe the funding would be available for use until after June. That means that the vital time period for research will have come and gone.

“It’s like a murder scene. You have to pick up the evidence now,” said Dana Wetzel, an ecotoxicologist from Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory, as quoted by the Huffington Post.

Scientists instead must turn to federal grants and other sources of funding.

BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance recently finalized negotiations over fund management and BP’s role in how research is performed. BP agreed that research would be conducted independently from the company and scientists could publish freely without oversight. But the funds will be overseen by their own hired contractor and they will choose half the members of a board that makes decisions on the kind of research performed.

Scientists are lacking proper insight into how oil spills damage ecosystems and how to assess that damage. Many of them say that we cannot adequately measure the impact of the spill until we build this scientific basis.

BP and the government are already performing research called the natural resource damage assessment (NRDA) but some suggest their approach is not be using the right tools or perspectives for environmental impact measurement.

The research under the NRDA is not well-developed and ignores many lower-level species, including birds, jellyfish, worms, crustaceans, and bait fish. It focuses on commercially important species and takes a legalistic approach.

“The science was abysmal to start with,” George Crozier, the head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, said in reference to understanding of the spill’s ecological effects.

He went on to articulate the issues with the NRDA process. “NRDA is not designed to advance science, it is designed to establish the damage done. It is a legal-driven process,” he said.

Experts say that the true toll of the BP oil spill that spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 may never be fully measured. BP has promised responsibility for damage assessment, but unless  processes and paperwork run smoothly, the opportunity for adequate reporting will be lost.

Photo credit: lieffcabraserblogs.com

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