Obscure Researcher with Ties to NOAA and Coast Guard Will Head Study on Spill’s Long-Term Effects


One of the more prestigious groups taking a look into the BP spill, the National Research Council, has chosen a New England researcher with strong ties to both NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard to direct its most important inquiry into the long-term effects of the spill.

News that the research will be directed by Larry Mayer, director of the University of New Hampshire Center for Coastal and Ocean Mapping, will lead many in the Gulf to utter a question usually reserved for the New Orleans Saints football team: Who dat? And it’s a great question.

Professor Mayer is a longtime ocean researcher perhaps best known for helping map the continental shelf off Alaska as part of a politically charged debate among nations about control of undersea resources. Since this type of international law is often based on the “foot” of the shelf, his work to expand where we believe that “foot” to be effectively argues for expansion of U.S. territorial rights. That study, a few years back, was a huge Coast Guard project.

News reports cite Mayer’s directorship of the mapping program, but the UNH website also confirms that he is “co-director of the NOAA/UNH Joint Hydrographic Center” since 2000. Such strong and ongoing connections to the “vast majority of oil is gone” agency and the Coast Guard will not be comforting to many in the Gulf.

The National Research Council’s committee, which will produce a final report for elected officials, public policy leaders and the public in the fall of 2012, is not a small-time group. It operates under the “…auspices of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the Institute of Medicine.”

The AP is reporting that Mayer, “…who returned from the first committee meeting last week, says the group is looking at which techniques are available to quantify the impact of the spill on food from the Gulf, and how to determine the impact on water purification, recreation or culture.”

We’ll know more in the days to come, but Dr. Mayer was also, according to his bio on the NNH website, “…chief or co-chief scientist of numerous expeditions including two legs of the Ocean Drilling Program.”

But we do know that he was quoted by a Maine newspaper in the weeks immediately following the spill questioning both the role of dispersant and the oil industry’s refusal to identify what’s actually in the substances. We can suppose he’ll finally find out – we’ll see what he shares with the rest of us.

See the AP report here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/new_hampshire/articles/2011/02/06/unh_prof_tapped_to_lead_oil_spill_committee/

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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