Date:  Nov. 17, 2016

National Academies’ Gulf Research Program Awards $3 Million in Exploratory Grants

WASHINGTON – The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine announced today the recipients of nine exploratory grants, totaling almost $3 million. The grants are intended to jumpstart the development of novel approaches, technologies, or methods and/or the application of new expertise in one of two areas: (1) how to improve the use of scenario planning to advance safety culture and minimize risk in offshore oil and gas operations, and (2) how to inform coastal community planning and response to environmental change in regions with offshore oil and gas operations. 

“We hope that the scenario planning projects will help offshore training programs reduce risk by simulating real situations more closely,” said Evonne Tang, GRP's director of external funding opportunities. “We’re also excited to support research that engages community members in science, natural resource management, and the development of tools that can inform coastal management.”  The proposals were selected after an external peer-review process. These awards are part of a broad portfolio of GRP funding opportunities outlined at

Listed in alphabetical order by principal investigator, the award recipients and their research topics are:

Project Director: Tony Grubesic, Ph.D., Arizona State University
Ross Maciejewski, Ph.D., and Ran Wei, Ph.D., University of Utah
Jake Nelson, M.S., Arizona State University
Enhancing community resilience and optimizing oil spill response through the participatory design of a decision support system – $460,000 
The project team plans to develop an open-source decision support system that helps responders minimize an oil spill’s environmental, economic, and social impacts by optimizing the deployment of response crews and equipment.  By incorporating information from relevant stakeholders and community leaders and mathematically modeling different oil spill scenarios, this system is intended to help coastal communities proactively plan effective responses to deep and ultra-deep water oil spills.

Project Director: Antonie Jetter, Ph.D., Portland State University
Steven Gray, Ph.D., Michigan State University
Steven Scyphers, Ph.D., Northeastern University
Timothy Vogus, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University
Collaborative modeling with fuzzy cognitive maps: A novel approach to achieving safety culture – $407,000
Researchers plan to develop and test a scenario-planning toolkit that oil and gas industry stakeholders can use to explore the factors that strengthen or detract from their organization’s safety culture. They will consider how these factors can be modeled collaboratively, whether modeling can address uncertainty about these factors and their causal relationships, if this exercise helps participants understand what bolsters and hinders safety culture, and whether their participation results in actionable outcomes. Researchers hope this project will produce a modeling approach that organizations can use to develop context-specific safety culture training that is tailored to their unique needs.

Project Director: Mark Kulp, Ph.D., University of New Orleans
Ed Owens, Ph.D., and Helen Dubach, M.A., Owens Coastal Consultants
Dinah Maygarden, M.S., University of New Orleans
Building coastal community subject matter expert capacity through an innovative “citizen science” program to collect quantitative beach dynamic and tar ball data for oil spill planning and response in coastal regions with offshore oil and gas operations – $481,000 
The project team intends to pair community groups and volunteers with experienced scientists so the community members can learn how to collect shoreline data. This data can be used to inform oil spill planning and response. In addition to developing citizen scientists who can help address a typical gap in oil spill data, the project team intends to produce a program template that other coastal communities could use to develop similar efforts.

Project Director: Tara Lambeth, Ph.D., University of New Orleans Center for Hazard Assessment, Response, and Technology (UNO-CHART)
Matt Bethel, Ph.D., Louisiana Sea Grant
Pamela Jenkins, Ph.D., and Monica Farris, Ph.D., University of New Orleans
The United Houma Nation
Multidisciplinary knowledge integration to support Louisiana coastal indigenous communities’ response to natural and technological disasters and adaptation to climate change – $312,000
The project team plans to collaborate with two United Houma Nation communities to document how environmental stressors affect the livelihoods of these communities and shape the mitigation strategies they use to protect their coastal lands. Team members will record traditional ecological knowledge, local adaption plans, current mitigation efforts, and the tribe’s adaptive capacities. They intend to produce a resource that can be used by the United Houma Nation and other indigenous communities facing similar challenges. This work may encourage other mitigation and adaption planning efforts and increase communication between communities and policymakers.

Project Director: Nancy Leveson, Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Developing a systems-theoretic, cross-disciplinary, scenario-based approach to reducing risk in offshore oil and gas operations – $231,000
Building on work that characterizes accidents as processes that involve complex interactions among social and technical factors, the project director plans to incorporate additional managerial, regulatory, environmental, and community preparedness factors into her new safety engineering approach. She proposes to strengthen cross-disciplinary efforts to prevent accidents such as Deepwater Horizon by creating tools that non-technical stakeholders can use to contribute relevant environmental and social knowledge to scenario planning, preventative design, and accident response activities.

Project Director: Susan Lovelace, Ph.D., South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium
Matthew C. Nowlin, Ph.D., College of Charleston
Justin Reedy, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
Can deliberative discussions lay a foundation for integrated decision-making networks? – $259,000
The project team will use an established approach in a new way to educate and engage coastal residents and community leaders. The team’s goal is to empower these stakeholders to prioritize coastal management issues and become more active in local natural resource management decisions. Through surveys, educational activities, and small-group discussions, project team members plan to identify insights about coastal management priorities and decision-making that they can share with local, state, and regional leaders, particularly those in areas with offshore oil and gas activity.

Project Director: Richard McLaughlin, Ph.D., Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
David Yoskowitz, Ph.D., and Victoria C. Ramenzoni, Ph.D., Harte Research Institute, Texas A&M University, Corpus Christi
Advancing a societal impact assessment framework for oil and gas operations in the Northern Gulf of Mexico – $250,000
The project team plans to develop a framework that coastal decision makers can use to measure and track the socio-economic impacts of offshore oil and gas operations in the context of environmental change and extreme weather. After reviewing relevant publications, conducting interviews and surveys, and holding focus groups with affected communities, the project team will create a formal societal impact assessment protocol that Gulf of Mexico communities can access online.

Project Director: Ranjana Mehta, Ph.D., Texas A&M University
S. Camille Peres, Ph.D., Texas A&M University
Eric van Oort, Ph.D., University of Texas at Austin
Curt Braun, Ph.D., Benchmark
Factoring in the human in offshore operations: Forces for scenario planning – $199,000
Researchers plan to explore how fatigue affects workers’ performance during simulated offshore drilling scenarios. They also plan to identify which methods drillers would be most likely to adopt to reduce fatigue during their shifts. By characterizing drillers’ cognitive performance across shifts and capturing the physiological impact of maintaining performance, this project could help planners develop scenarios to prevent or mitigate human (or systems) error that align more closely with workers’ capabilities.

Project Director: Saeed Salehi, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
Ziho Kang, Ph.D., and Edward Cokely, Ph.D., University of Oklahoma
Virtual reality offshore operations training infrastructure: Enhancing expert containment, decision making, and risk communications – $383,000
The project team plans to develop training modules to evaluate and strengthen workers’ decision-making skills by developing tools and modules that simulate loss of well control scenarios in the offshore oil and gas environment. These modules could enhance process safety in offshore oil and gas operations by helping operators, training organizations, and regulators assess and manage preventable risks related to human factors. 

The GRP, a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, was established in 2013 as a result of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It seeks to improve understanding of the interconnecting human, environmental, and energy systems of the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas. The GRP funds studies, projects, and other activities using three broad approaches: research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring. To learn more about the GRP, including grants and other funding opportunities, visit Information about the 2016 exploratory grants is available at

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. The National Academies operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln. For more information, visit

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