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