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Is LA oil spill research a "rigged game"?

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It occurred to me the other day that we have been drilling for oil in the gulf for over 70 years. In 1937, Pure Oil (now Chevron) and its partner Superior Oil (now ExxonMobil) used a fixed platform to develop a field 1 mile offshore of Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana in 14 feet of water. 73 years later we are routinely drilling in over 5000 feet of water. The technical and monetary challenges that had to be overcome to engage in this activity are staggering.

Yet, as we have all been witness to, the technology to effectively clean up spills (or in the case of the deepwater horizon.... uncontrolled oil geysers) consists of 1970's technology combined with unstudied chemicals intended to sweep the oil out of sight, and therefore out of mind. How is it possible that technology for cleanup has lagged so far behind the technology for drilling? The answer lies in who is doing the research into oil response.

In the state of Louisiana oil spill response research is conducted by LOSCO (Louisiana's Oil Spill Coordinator's Office). LOSCO's mission and history, according to their website ...

"The state legislature created the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office (LOSCO) in 1991. LOSCO was made part of the Governor's Office so that it could serve as the single point of contact for all programs related to oil spills in Louisiana. Our mission is to respond to oil spill events, restore natural resources, protect economic infrastructure, and safeguard public health. LOSCO is funded by a two-cent per barrel tax on all oil transported to or from vessels at Louisiana marine terminals. "

Part of this two cent a barrel tax funds LOSCO's research arm. The Louisiana Oil Spill Research & Development Program (OSRADP). The program is run out of Louisiana state university and provides funding for research programs related to ...well lets just use their own words from their website....

"The chief function of the Louisiana Applied and Educational Oil Spill Research and Development Program (OSRADP) is to provide oil spill planners and response personnel with practical, scientifically-sound and cost effective spill prevention, management and mitigation tools. Annually, OSRADP underwrites 10 to 15 research projects to accomplish this mission. "


Since its inception in 1994 to 2007 (latest data available on their site) OSRADP has distributed over 6.4 million in oil spill research funding. So why is the technology for cleanup so woefully behind drilling technology? The devil is in the details.

A little research reveals that OSRADP consists of 2 controlling committees, an advisory board and a proposal review board. These are the ones tasked with determining what research will be funded and what actually will be researched. In other words, they control the purse strings and therefore the scientific data produced.

This is where things get interesting as it appears that "big oil" is heavily involved with both the advisory committee and the proposal review board. The current advisory board members are...

Dan Allen, ChevronTexaco
Kent Satterlee III, Shell Exploration & Production Co. (SEPCo)
Dr. William Campbell, Graduate Studies & Research/Applied & Natural Science, Louisiana Tech University
Harold "Rusty" Wright, Minerals Management Service (MMS)
Chris Piehler, Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality
Jim Hanifen, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries
Richard F. Stanek, Louisiana Department of Natural Resources, Coastal Management Division
Rob Yarbrough, Emergency Response Coordinator, ConocoPhilips
Barry Joffrion, Placid Refining Company LLC
Roland Guidry, (chairman) Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinators Office/Office of the Governor

Proposal review board...

Derald Chriss, Department of Chemistry, Southern University
David Fritz, British Petroleum
Mark Davis, Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana
J. E. Myers, ChevronTexaco
Dr. Maud Walsh, Department of Agronomy, LSU AgCenter
Dr. Anita George-Ares, Exxon Mobil Biomedical Science
Dr. Albert Venosa, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Roland Guidry, (chairman) Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinators Office/Office of the Governor

The argument can be made that oil companies have the most experience in oil spillage and therefore should be included.

However, a more compelling argument is that by limiting the science produced, big oil can effectively limit research on the harmful effects of spills while giving their lawyers enough "wiggle room" to base future lawsuits on. Nothing makes a defense lawyer drool more the uncertainty. Just asked Exxon, as they were able to drop the damages from the Exxon Valdez from 5 billion to just over 500 million.

 

Albert Gould is just a geek seeking the truth, wherever it my lie. "I'm not a writer by trade...I just play one on facebook"

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Thank you for explaining why there has not been a ... by Dan Fittro on Friday, Aug 6, 2010 at 12:48:13 PM