THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Scientists fret over delay in gulf research

Associated Press / April 25, 2011

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NEW ORLEANS — Scientists say it is taking far too long to distribute millions of dollars in BP funds for badly needed gulf oil spill research, and it could be too late to assess the crude’s impact on pelicans, shrimp, and other species by the time studies begin.

The spring nesting and spawning season is a crucial time to sample the reproduction rates, behavior, and abundance of species, all of which could be altered by last year’s massive spill. Yet no money has been made available for this year, and it could take months to determine which projects will be funded.

“It’s like a murder scene,’’ said Dana Wetzel, an ecotoxicologist at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida. “You have to pick up the evidence now.’’

BP PLC had pledged $500 million — $50 million a year over 10 years — to help scientists study the spill’s impact and forge a better understanding of how to deal with future spills. The first $50 million was handed out in May 2010 to four gulf-based research institutes and to the National Institutes of Health.

Rita Colwell, a University of Maryland scientist who chairs the board overseeing the money, said the protocol for distributing the remaining $450 million would be announced today at the National Press Club Washington. After that, scientists will be allowed to submit proposals, but it could take months for research to be chosen.

Michael Carron, a Mississippi marine scientist selected to head the BP-funded post-spill research project, Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, doubted money would be available before June.

With the BP funds so slow to get out the door, scientists are trying to get funding from federal grants and other sources.

From the outset, the $500 million has been fraught with problems and questions over how the money would be distributed and how much scientists would be influenced by BP. The result has been paralysis.

It took until last month for BP and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance, a nonprofit headed by Gulf Coast governors, to finally agree on how to spend the rest of the $450 million. Under the agreement, BP pledged that research would be independent of the oil company and the alliance and that scientists could publish their results without BP approval.