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Summer 2013 Vol. 13 Number 1

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NAS Launches New Research Program on Gulf of Mexico

Shrimp boat from Terrebonne Parish of Louisiana, U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Nathan Bradshaw

The impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, which killed 11 people and released approximately 200 millions of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, will likely be felt for decades along the Gulf coast. The spill damaged more than 1,000 miles of coastal wetland and harmed the health and productivity of the region's many natural resources, impacting the communities that rely on them.

The broad nature of the spill's effects has prompted the creation of a long-term research program that will seek ways to minimize the damage and advance understanding of health, environment, and oil system safety in the Gulf of Mexico and other outer continental shelf regions. As part of the settlement between the companies involved and the U.S. government, penalty payments totaling $500 million are being used to establish a new 30-year program administered by the National Academy of Sciences that will research ways to protect human health and the environment in the Gulf region. The program will also look at ways to make offshore drilling safer in the Gulf and along the United States' outer continental shelf.

"Given the wide breadth of this research and the timeframe for the new program, we need to be sure we think big," said NAS President Ralph Cicerone in a video statement about the program. "We also need to consider how to balance the need for near-term results with long-term objectives."

The program will be a joint effort of the NAS, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine, and National Research Council. A strategic planning phase is under way to ensure that the program targets activities that use the Academies' strengths and complement other efforts already taking place in the Gulf.

The planning process is being led by an advisory group made up of experts with experience in academia and industry, as well as people with deep connections to the Gulf region. The group, chaired by former NAS Vice President Barbara Schaal, held its first meeting in New Orleans in late July. In coming months it will hold several more meetings, most along the Gulf, to help identify issues the program should address and to build relationships with stakeholders. -- Sara Frueh

More information on the Gulf program is available online.

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Copyright 2013 by the National Academy of Sciences