FIO To Receive $10 Million Grant From BP

Florida Institute Of Oceanography will use the money to monitor coastal waters and the oil spill's impact.


By Vickie Chachere News Manager

ST. PETERSBURG (June 16, 2010) – The Florida Institute of Oceanography will receive $10 million from oil company BP to fund a rapid research response to the effects of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico, but Florida officials are continuing to press for tens of millions of dollars more for what likely will be decades of research needed to fully document the impact of the spill.


BP announced the funding Tuesday as part of a new effort to begin researching and restoring the gulf environment. In addition to the Florida Institute of Oceanography grant, $10 million will go to Mississippi Northern Gulf Institute (NGI) and $5 million to Louisiana State University. Additionally, the corporation is pledging the net revenue from the sale of oil recovered from the spill to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation.


In a Wednesday conference call with reporters, Florida academic leaders and U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor made clear that BP should be responsible for funding long-term research efforts related to the spill and its impact on the gulf ecosystem, which could require at least $100 million. Florida's delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young and Castor; Sens. Bill Nelson and George LeMieux; and Gov. Charlie Crist have strongly advocated for BP to provide the total amount of research funds needed.


"We all have to realize this is not a short-term issue ... particularly as we continue to have oil released into the sysetm and there's no telling when it's going to end," said William Hogarth, the acting director of FIO and dean of USF's College of Marine Science. "We need to go to work. This is a long-term issue for the state of Florida."


The initial research projects will focus on securing baseline water data in waters not yet affected by the spill so as the oil - both on the surface of the water and in the gulf's depths- spreads, its effects can be documented. Scientists also will begin trying to determine the impact of chemical dispersants, which have been used in unprecedented quantities in the gulf; and the spill's effects on delicate coral reefs, fisheries and marine mammals.


Florida State University System Chancellor Frank Brogan said Florida's academic marine science community began organizing its response to the spill with a sense of urgency in the first days of the disaster, adding that BP must now echo that response in providing resources needed for scientists to continue doing their work.


"They (the scientists) have become an important educational vehicle for people all around the country based on their expertise," Brogan said.


Looking ahead, though, ocean researchers recognize that one lesson learned from Alaska's Exxon Valdez disaster applies to the Deepwater Horizon spill: the research continues for decades after the oil stops spilling.


That, FIO member institutions agreed, will require at least $100 million to cover the costs of diverting marine science researchers from their pre-spill projects; refocusing labs on oil-related research, deploying adequate numbers of gliders, subsurface monitors and buoys to assess water conditions; and outfiting research vessels with the equipment needed to more thoroughly survey marine conditions.


"We recognize the financial investment we are requesting really scales with the enormity of the problem we are investigating," said Ross Ellington, chairman of Florida's Oil Spill Academic Task Force and Florida State University's vice president for research.


The initial BP grant follows discussions between Hogarth and BP officials held in early June during a meeting in Louisiana. In BP’s letter of intent to Hogarth, the company established that the research effort will be “managed in the tradition of full academic freedom and independent peer-review, and BP’s support shall in no way interfere with the academic freedom of the research institutions.”


The resulting data, measurement information and findings will be made public, FIO and BP have agreed.


FIO is a consortium of 20 public and private research centers in Florida, including the 11 state universities. The University of South Florida serves as the host institution for the consortium. 


With more than 1,800 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico, more than 3,800 oil drilling rigs in the gulf, and some 11,000 tankers traversing Florida’s waters each year, the state’s sensitive coastal habitats and coastal communities suffer substantial risk of oil spills. The Gulf of Mexico is a substantial economic asset to the state of Florida, generating more than $500 billion annually from tourism, fishing and industr


FIO would address the immediate research needs through two approaches:

Florida Coastal Sentinels Program: The Florida Coastal Sentinels Program is a monitoring system for Florida’s coastal waters. The plan would allow FIO to immediately deploy and maintain a system of coastal, surface, subsurface and deep water monitors in order to evaluate the impact of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; monitor the recovery of impacted areas; and establish a permanent capability to monitor the impacts of any future oil spills.


Oil Spill Mitigation:  FIO will coordinate the evaluation and further development of current and emerging technologies that improve the ability to capture and mitigate oil spills in the open Gulf and coastal area.


Shirley Pomponi, chair of the FIO advisory council and the director of the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Insitute at Florida Atlantic Univeristy, said an FIO committee will be formed by the end of the week to began considering the first rounds of research funding. 


"The oil is still spilling, the effects are starting to hit our coastline and the deeper waters offshore," she said. "We are very anxious to get started on this right away."


Vickie Chachere covers science and technology and can be reached at 813-974-6251.