The National Academy of Sciences expects to start taking applications this fall for the $500 million assigned to the 30-year Gulf Research Program, set up as a result of criminal settlements from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.
This first set of applications was announced Monday as part of the release of a “vision document” outlining the first five years of the program.
“With this vision, the Gulf Research Program has the opportunity to tackle large, complex issues across geographic and disciplinary boundaries over the long term, with the potential to have a significant impact on the Gulf region, its ecosystems and its communities,” said Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Science.
The 30-year Gulf Research Program has several goals including improvement of oil production safety as well as to better understand how people, the environment and energy production are connected. A third goal will be to advance research into the changing ecology of the Gulf Coast region including the loss of land on the Louisiana coast.
“This plan seems well thought out. It addresses concerns that many of us have expressed about workforce development and education, long-term monitoring and observation, and leadership and policy development,” said Christopher D’Elia, dean and professor of the LSU School of the Coast and Environment.
Cynthia Sarthou, executive director of the Gulf Restoration Network, said they are pleased with the focus of the plan so far.
“As the BP drilling disaster clearly demonstrated, the development of technology to drill deeper and deeper has not been accompanied by improved technology to ensure the safety of workers and the environment during drilling operations. So, we are pleased that the program will focus on environmental sustainability and enhanced industry safety in its first five years,” Sarthou said.
“In the light of rising seas and other challenges from climate change, we’re also happy to see an emphasis on how social, economic and environmental factors affect community vulnerability and the resilience of coastal communities,” she said. “Additional research on baseline environmental conditions in the Gulf will aid scientists in determining impacts of future oil spills.”
Applications will include those for research into safety training for offshore workers and into the connections between the coastal ecosystem and energy production with human health. Other applications will be taken for two-year fellowships for pre-tenure faculty at universities as well as science policy fellowships for graduate and professional school students.
The education and training of the next generation of responders and scientists was something that universities along the Gulf Coast made sure to emphasize to the National Academy of Sciences advisory group as they were putting the plan together, D’Elia said.
If something goes wrong again like it did at the Deepwater Horizon in 2010, it’s the institutions and workers in the Gulf States that will be the first to be effected and the first to respond, he said.
In addition, the ability to recruit and retain quality graduate students is the backbone of any research university, he said.
“We’re really struggling, as most universities are, to keep the graduate fellowships going,” D’Elia said. “This really will help fill a gap for us.”
Gulf State universities also pushed for better environmental monitoring in the Gulf of Mexico. According to National Academy of Sciences, the program will be launching the first competition for environmental monitoring grants next year.
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