A series of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act reveal BP's attempts to influence work from a $500 million fund it pledged for independent scientific research into effects of last year' s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Oil giant BP’s Gulf Research Initiative announced last year, to fund independent science research on the disaster, evidently came with strings attached, as a series of company emails obtained by Greenpeace show.
The documents come to light as a result of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). After obtaining them, Greenpeace shared the documents with the Guardian.
In one email, two questions regarding company influence are asked by Russell Putt, a BP environmental expert. The first asks
Can we “direct” GRI funding to a specific study (as we now see the Governor’s offces trying to do)?
That is followed with
What influence do we have over the vessels/equipment driving the studies vs the questions?
In another email dated June 22, 2010 that discusses the minutes of meeting in Houma, Louisiana, Karen Ragoonanan-Jalim, a BP environmental officer, asks
Discussion around GRI and whether nor not BP can influence this Long Term Research Program ($US500million) to undertake the studies we believe will be useful in terms of understanding the fate and effects of the spill on the environment, e.g. can we steer the research in support of Restoration Ecology?”
Ragoonanan-Jalim then went on to note attempts at influence carried no guarantees:
It may be possible for us to suggest the direction of the studies but without guarantee that they will be done.
On the issue of identifying gaps (gap assessment) in work being that was being conducted by Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA), Ragoonanan-Jalim suggested that
Once gaps have been identified, one approach to close the gaps will be to attempt (through the specific TWG BP-badged SME) to influence the NRDA scope going forward or, failing that, commission our own study. The latter will need to be carefully understood (reviewed by Legal) for litigation and other unintended consequences.
The new revelations come at a time when some scientists still question the full effects of the worst environmental disaster in the history of the US. Samantha Joye, a marine scientist at the University of Georgia, and her research team first discovered a giant plume of oil last May in the Gulf’s deep waters.
That finding was quickly disputed by BP officials, with BP’s then-chief executive Tony Haward stating in one faux pas of his many, “The oil is on the surface. There aren’t any plumes.”
Since then, she has continued with research disputing the US government’s and BP’s positions that the vast majority of oil had disappeared in the Gulf. “You talk to people who live around the Gulf of Mexico, who live on the coast, who have family members who work on oil rigs. It's not OK down there. The system is not fine. Things are not normal. There are a lot of very strange things going on – the turtles washing up on beaches, dolphins washing up on beaches, the crabs. It is just bizarre. How can that just be random consequence?” Joye asked, according to the Guardian.
The recently surface emails also come just a month after the Obama administration began resuming a deepwater permitting process for the the Gulf of Mexico. Among the early recipients of these permits were BP and ExxonMobile.
When asked to comment on the emails discussing influence and direction of the independent research, a BP spokeswoman said: “ BP appointed an independent research board to construct the long-term research programme,” the Guardian reports.