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Photo: Dispersing oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Patrick KelleyUPDATE ON NAS GULF OF MEXICO PROGRAM

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in April 2010, killing 11 workers, it resulted in the biggest oil spill in U.S. history.  Impacts of the approximately 200 million gallons of oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico will affect the environment and people who live and work in the region for decades.  As part of legal settlements with the companies involved, the federal government asked the National Academy of Sciences to establish a new 30-year research program focused on human health and environmental protection in the Gulf region, including issues concerning the safety of offshore oil drilling and hydrocarbon production and transportation in the Gulf of Mexico and on the United States' outer continental shelf. 

The NAS program, which has yet to be formally named, will concentrate on three areas: environmental monitoring, research and development, and education and training.  The settlements require penalty payments totaling $500 million to be made over the next five years into a fund to be administered by the NAS, which will support the program's studies, projects, and activities over the next 30 years.  The program will draw upon the scientific, engineering, and health expertise of the NAS, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. These private, nonprofit organizations provide independent, expert advice under a congressional charter granted to the NAS in 1863. In accordance with NAS policies and procedures, the program will be conducted based on scientific merit and integrity, with emphasis on freedom of inquiry.

NAS President's Statement on New Gulf of Mexico Program


Preliminary Planning

The Academy is in the early stages of planning the program, which involves tapping experts to set a strategic vision and gathering input from key stakeholders.  Chris Elfring, former director of both the National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate and Polar Research Board, is leading the program.  A series of outreach and scoping meetings will be held to help identify research opportunities and issues the program should address.  The meetings will be held in a variety of formats and locations to encourage wide participation.  A major early focus will be to establish relationships with local stakeholders and engage state environmental protection departments and other coastal research managers.

Building on the NAS's core strength of bringing together a range of experts to provide the best possible advice on science, engineering, and health issues, the program will be guided by selected experts in various advisory roles.  Overall guidance will come from a board appointed by the NAS.  Ultimately, the program will encompass a diverse array of activities, both short and long term. 

Download slides from a presentation by Dr. Elfring summarizing the early status of the program.

To receive updates or for more information, please e-mail GulfProgram@nas.edu.  A website dedicated to the new program is under development. 

Related Reports From NAS, NAE, IOM, and National Research Council

Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Offshore Drilling Safety Macondo Well-Deepwater Horizon Blowout: Lessons for Offshore Drilling Safety (2011)
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Offshore Safety and Environmental Management Systems Evaluating the Effectiveness of Offshore Safety and Environmental Management Systems (2012)
Effectiveness of Safety and Environmental Management Systems for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Operations: Interim Report Effectiveness of Safety and Environmental Management Systems for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Operations: Interim Report (2011)
Approaches for Ecosystem Services Valuation for the Gulf of Mexico After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Interim Report Approaches for Ecosystem Services Valuation for the Gulf of Mexico After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Interim Report (2011) Final report expected Spring 2013
Approaches for Ecosystem Services Valuation for the Gulf of Mexico After the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill: Interim Report Interim Report on Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Blowout and Ways to Prevent Such Events (2010)
Research Priorities for Assessing Health Effects from the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill: A Letter Report (2010)
Review of the Proposal for the Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up Study: Highlights from the September 2010 Workshop Review of the Proposal for the Gulf Long-Term Follow-Up Study: Highlights from the September 2010 Workshop (2010)
Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop Assessing the Effects of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on Human Health: A Summary of the June 2010 Workshop (2010)