Oil caused the mess in the Gulf of Mexico. Should U.S. oil royalties pay for scientists to study what happened, and what's still happening, to this complex environment?
At least one scientist thinks so. Ed Overton of Louisiana State University figures the billions of dollars collected in royalties by the now-defunct and much-reviled Minerals Management Service -- re-named and re-organized as the Bureau of Ocean Energy -- must have enough money to pay for research into the environmental impact of the Deepwater Horizon blowout and spill.
Speaking at a Senate hearing last week on the effects of oil-dispersing chemicals, Overton and other experts called the BP spill an unintentional "grand experiment" into what deep water oil exploration can do to animals, plants, water and land in the Gulf. As Overton put it, the oil and dispersants are out there now. Best to study them over the months and years ahead to figure out what they're doing to the environment.
"The Mineral Management Service has generated royalty income to the federal government of billions of dollars. And virtually all of that money has been spent on not understanding the environment," Overton said.
While it should be the oil industry's obligation to know how to respond to an environmental disaster like this one, Overton said, "the government ought to have some oversight in taking some of that royalty money, a significant amount of that royalty money, and understanding how, both from an engineering perspective as well as an ecological perspective, what to do about it."