Schaal-led advisory group on Gulf oil spill finishes its term with strategic vision document

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) released a report last week from an advisory group on the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.


Barbara A. Schaal, PhD, dean of the faculty of Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, chaired the advisory group that was tasked with creating a strategic vision and guide NAS’ Gulf Research Program.

The new strategic vision document describes the long-term goals, objectives and strategies for the program and will guide its scope of work over the next five years (2015-2020).

In addition, the program announced that its initial, short-term activities, to be funded in 2015, will include exploratory grants, early-career research fellowships and science policy fellowships.

The $500 million, 30-year program to be run by NAS — an independent, nonprofit institution — was established at the request of the U.S. government as part of the criminal settlements related to the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

Focused on human health, environmental protection and safety of
oil and gas activities in the Gulf of Mexico and the United States’ Outer Continental Shelf, the program will support research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

“We offer our sincere gratitude to the energetic and dedicated members of the advisory group, under the leadership of Professor Barbara Schaal, for undertaking this task,” said Ralph J. Cicerone, NAS president.

“With this vision, the Gulf Research Program has the opportunity to tackle large, complex issues across geographic and disciplinary boundaries over the long term, with the potential to have a significant impact on the Gulf region, its ecosystems and its communities.”

“As our advisory group began to envision what this program might look like, we thought about what opportunities it could offer to inspire innovative, integrated thinking about the challenges faced by people along the Gulf coast,” said Schaal, the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences.

“It became clear that the program’s most valuable contributions
are likely to come at the intersections of its three areas of responsibility.”

Over its lifetime, the program will address three interconnected goals:

  • to foster innovative improvements to safety technologies, safety culture and environmental protection systems associated with offshore oil and gas development;
  • to improve understanding of the connections between human health and the environment to support the development of healthy and resilient Gulf communities; and
  • to advance understanding of the Gulf of Mexico region as a dynamic system — one with complex environmental systems, functions, and processes as well as an interconnected relationship with human activities and well-being — to inform the protection and restoration of ecosystem services.

The advisory group’s term will end Sept. 30, at which time oversight for the Gulf Research Program will transition to a newly appointed board charged with implementing the program’s vision, guiding the program so it fulfills its mission and aligns with the strengths of the NAS, and identifying larger and more far-reaching themes and activities to ensure that the program has lasting impact.