Scientists to begin yearlong study of oil spill’s impact on Gulf


Research conducted throughout the next year on this summer’s record-setting oil spill will help scientists across Alabama better understand its immediate impact on the Gulf of Mexico, and help better prepare for similar catastrophes in the future.

“You might think of this as the first step in the study of impacts of oil-related pollution in the Gulf,” said John Valentine, senior marine scientist and chairman of University Programs at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “The first thing we want to know is what are the conditions in and on the water at this moment.”

As part of Alabama’s Marine Environmental Science Consortium, more than 100 scientists from 14 different universities across the state are conducting studies with $5 million in BP PLC grant money, dubbed RAPID Response Research funds.

Officials recently announced the approval of the studies, which means scientists “can start the work essentially whenever they can get on the boat,” Valentine said.

Gov. Bob Riley awarded the money in September, and researchers presented their ideas two months ago.

Valentine, who helped organize the effort, said the oil giant will have no say in the results, which are expected to be released in peer-reviewed journals and at scientific discussions across the country.

“There’s absolutely no strings attached to this money,” he said. “BP does not have the right to reject anything we say based on our study.”

The research will be “much more research-oriented and much less litigation-oriented,” he added.

The studies are focused on the following four general themes.

  • Ecosystem integration and assessment.
  • The impact of contaminants under the action of ocean currents and tropical storms.
  • Environmental effects of the oil-dispersant system and the science of ecosystem recovery.
  • Chemical evolution and biological degradation of the oil-dispersant systems and subsequent interaction with the marine and coastal ecosystems.

“This project has provided a unique opportunity for cooperative efforts within the state’s institutions of higher education,” George Crozier, the executive director of the Sea Lab, said in a news release.

No one aspect of the studies, which are expected to be completed by December 2011, is more significant than the other, Valentine said.

“They’re all linked in one way or another,” he said. “The most important thing the research would tell us would be how best to react to another accident like this.”

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

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