With oil spill dispute resolved, NOAA scientist joins USF


TAMPA, Florida – The government was skeptical about what University of South Florida scientists found in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico a month after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, unleashing millions of gallons of sludge.

Steve Murawski, a scientist from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, was credited for building accord after tension arose between the agency and USF researchers.

The goodwill he generated for USF is expected to continue, because Murawski is joining USF in January as a research professor.

“Steve is not only an excellent scientist, but a skilled consensus builder,” William Hogarth, Dean of USF’s College of Marine Science, said in a news release. “Steve will bring a vast amount of national as well as international experience to the table and help us move the college forward.”

As dean of the college, Hogarth received the brunt of the criticism from not only NOAA, but from petroleum giant BP, after USF scientists announced in May that vast globs of oil had been detected in the deep waters of the Gulf.

NOAA, which funded USF’s research, disputed the findings. Federal officials urged caution, saying scientists at USF and other schools were speculating. Hogarth refused to back down and stood by the results announced by his researchers.

Murawski, a key figure in the response to the nation’s worst environmental disaster, “connected the academic scientific community with the governmental scientific community, bringing the two sides together,” USF spokeswoman Vickie Chachere said.

As the chief science adviser for NOAA’s [National] Marine Fisheries Service, Murawski continued that diplomacy from the time USF announced the discovery of the subsurface layers of oil to leading a scientific summit in St. Pete Beach in August where researchers compared data on the effects of the spill.

“I am pleased to be able to join the world-class marine sciences faculty at the University of South Florida and to work at the intersection of multiple scientific disciplines important for understanding the oceans,” Murawski said in a statement.

During his time at NOAA, Murawski oversaw 25 laboratories, 11 research vessels, and more than 2,000 scientists and staff. When he starts his new job at USF, he will hold the St. Petersburg Downtown Progress-Peter R. Betzer Endowed Chair, a position created in the 1980s to bolster marine science efforts in the city and attract top scientists.

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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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