In its final report, which was released today, the presidential commission investigating the Gulf Oil Spill called for scientists to play a more important role in the federal government’s decisions about where to allow offshore oil production and also in how the government responds to spills. At a press conference in Washington, DC, Bob Graham, a co-chair of the commission said “Science has not been given a sufficient seat at the table. Actually, I think that’s a considerable understatement. It has been virtually shut out.”
The commission asked Congress to supply more funding for scientific and environmental studies and to involve science agencies more formally in decisions about which areas should be opened to exploration. Specifically, the commission urged Congress to change the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to give the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration a formal role in assessing plans to lease offshore areas. The commission criticized the March decision by the Obama administration to expand areas available for exploration without consulting NOAA.
The commission also called for:
*More money for research in how to respond to oil spills.
*More research on dispersants, including their long-term effects on the environment.
*Faster access to oil spill sites by scientists so they can start independent studies.
*Plans by the Environmental Protection Agency to address human health impacts from large spills.
*Restoration efforts that are well funded and based on scientific research.
Relating to that last point, the commission requested that 80 percent of the penalties collected for violating the Clean Water Act should go to restoration efforts in the Gulf of Mexico
Looking ahead, the commission warned about exploration efforts off the coast of Alaska, particularly in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. These areas are biologically rich but there is relatively little scientific information about most of the species living there. And a spill in those regions would stretch the resources of the Coast Guard, which currently only has one operational ice breaker—a gap that has hampered scientific studies in the Arctic and Antarctic. The commission advised Congress to provide the Coast Guard with more resources and urged the government to carry out a comprehensive research program on oil spills in the Arctic.
Image: U.S. Coast Guard