Will the BP Oil Spill Spur Cleanup Research Funding?


Brown pelicans are among the species that have suffered greatly from the Gulf oil spill. Photo by IBRRC via Flickr.

It would be more than far-fetched to talk about an upside or a "silver lining" to the devastating BP Gulf spill, but with the toxic torrent of oil finally seeming to be brought under control (fingers crossed, and inşallah), it seems reasonable to consider whether there's any bitter lemonade we can make out of this major environmental lemon. At least for scientists, that might be a real possibility.Somewhat ironically, though perhaps predictably, the lack of major oil spills between the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989 and the Deepwater Horizon explosion that sent oil gushing into the Gulf starting in late April has hampered the progress of cleanup technology, the New York Times reported last month:

Beyond regulatory obstacles, a major reason for the dearth of new technologies has been a lack of money for research. Programs that were flush with cash in the 1990s after the Exxon Valdez spill and the subsequent creation of the Oil Pollution Act have had their appropriations dry up over the past decade. And research money from oil companies has declined in the same period.

"Funding goes up and down like a roller coaster" as public and political interest builds after a spill and then wanes, said Mervin Fingas, a consultant in Edmonton, Alberta, who has written a book on cleanup technologies.

The outrage over the Gulf spill has fueled a new wave of interest in -- and potential funding for -- disaster-response and cleanup solutions, the Times wrote. "It's totally turned around, and there's a kind of chaos," Nancy E. Kinner, the co-director of the University of New Hampshire's Coastal Response Research Center, told the paper. "It's one of those things where we've gone from feast to famine, and now from famine to feast."

Valdez Spill Prompted Ongoing Research
Sadly, such cycles of research focus usually drop off when public interest wanes, as the American public's generally does all too quickly. The sustained anger over the BP debacle, however, gives some researchers hope that, like the Valdez spill -- which prompted (OK, forced) useful research still ongoing to this day -- the Gulf gusher will be an exception to this rule.

"All over the world, whenever major oil spills happen, everybody, all in a flurry, goes and starts studying and they study for usually about a year. But once the spill is stopped and everything is cleaned up, most of the funding stops. That's why we don't have ... any really good, say, 10-year studies of major oil spills and what they did," Wes Tunnel, a biologist with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M; University in Corpus Christi, told the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency recently. "It's a real shame. I hope and think that it may be changed with this spill."

Now if we could only change the mentality that ignores the need for environmental research when the environment is not being obviously destroyed, we might really be getting somewhere.


More about the Gulf oil spill:
Gulf Oil Spill - Amazing and Devastating Photos
Scientists Hope BP Oil Spill Offers Clues about Global Warming
BP Gulf Spill May Cause Loss of 1 Million Jobs
Breaking Down the BP Gulf Spill Blame Game
Must-See Video Shows BP Gulf Spill & Toxic Dispersants Underwater
US Army to Turn Gulf Spill Oil Into Asphalt With Experimental Chemical (Video)
The Political Impact of the BP Gulf Spill So Far

Tags: BP | Oil | United States

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