Should U.S. oil royalties pay for studies of BP spill’s environmental impact?

August 9, 2010

OIL-SPILL/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.

OIL-SPILL/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.”

There’s plenty that the engineers and ecologists don’t know, Overton said, starting with how to collect oil samples in deep water (there are sampling techniques to collect plants and animals, but not crude). As he told it, when the samplers went down into the Gulf, they got coated with oil, so it was impossible to tell if the oil was just a layer they passed through or whether it was a true sample of what was there at the sea bed.

Now that the Macondo well has been capped and a final “bottom kill” is seemingly within reach, it’s probably natural for everyone to want to turn the page. But researchers want to actually know what happened. Should oil royalties help pay for that research?

Photo credit: REUTERS/Sean Gardner (two photos)(BP worker Randy Murry holds up a sample of water taken from the Gulf of Mexico to be tested, while working on the Swamp Queen III skimmer near Venice, Louisiana, August 1, 2010.; Oil clings to marsh grass in South Pass near Venice, Louisiana, August 1, 2010.)


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

User fees; yep.

Posted by borisjimbo | Report as abusive

[…] To read Deborah Zabarenko’s full blog, click here. […]

Posted by Washington Extra – In the heart of Texas « Read NEWS | Report as abusive

These so called experts already know what oil does to the environment…just another excuse to keep their jobs, spend the money on those that have already lost theirs….

Posted by spudddddddd | Report as abusive

So, the great oil glutton is seeking compensation for the environmental consequences of the Gulf oil disaster; a very worthy precedent for future generations who will have to suffer a global catastrophe that will largely be sourced from this gluttony, or maybe the glutton will insist on a professional risk assessment, unlike the Gulf authorities who signally failed to assess the risk arising from drilling a mile under the sea.

Posted by ken12brom | Report as abusive

The federal government should allocate at least 50% of its Gulf oil spill royalties to pay for continued research of the spill itself. While it would be extremely hard to fix the stupidity of companies willing to employ substandard drilling precautions, a simpler and more effective method of clean up and eradication is out there. Pictures of stagnant brown beaches, innocent animals covered in oil, and entire ecosystems destroyed by the spill should be enough to motivate those in Washington to at least attempt to understand what happened. Oil spills are not a common occurrence, so neither is the research behind them. And for one event to virtually destroy the entire Gulf of Mexico, OUR Gulf of Mexico, for years and years to come, I believe some insight into how an event such as this can be avoided or handled more properly is necessary. Or we can focus on simply compensating those affected and be screwed next time something like this happens. We are all humans and we all make mistakes, let’s grow up and focus on taking care of business rather than pointing fingers.

Posted by zeke1756 | Report as abusive