Two Louisianans named to Gulf advisory group

Starting in July, a new advisory group to the National Academy of Sciences’ Gulf of Mexico program will help decide what a new $500 million, 30-year program will do.

The program was set up as part of a settlement with BP and Transocean Ltd. after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The settlement outlines the program’s focus of human health, environmental protection and oil system safety in the Gulf of Mexico and the outer continental shelf of the United States. Within those topics, the program is supposed to look at research and development, education and training, and environmental monitoring.

How that is done will be the focus of the advisory group’s work over the next year.

“Their main task is really to figure out what this program is going to do,” said Chris Elfring, director of the Gulf program at the National Research Council.

Because the mission is so broad, ranging from environmental monitoring to human health, Elfring said they tried to put together the most diverse group they could. The list of members includes experts in oceanography, biology, computer science, ecology, public health, sociology and psychology.

“We know those are the areas we are working in, but what does that mean,” Elfring said.

A major task of the advisory group will be to figure out what the focus of the first three to five years of the program should be, she said.

The advisory group will also need to look at what is already being done, or planned for, in other programs, including through the RESTORE Act which will allocate a different pot of oil spill-related money.

The first meeting of the advisory group is scheduled to be in New Orleans sometime in July, and there will be opportunities for public involvement as the process moves forward, Elfring said.

Robert Carney, professor with the department of oceanography and coastal sciences at LSU, and Kerry St. Pé, executive director of the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, are the two Louisiana-based members of the 24-member advisory group.

Carney said he hadn’t talked to Elfring yet, but imagines the advisory group will lean toward a program that emphasizes a larger picture.

“When we look at the Gulf, we really need to start viewing it as a part of a global system,” he said.

St. Pé said that he wants to make sure that practical research is considered such as how oiled areas are cleaned up to what oil in the environment means.

“I just want to make sure the many, many proposals they’ll receive will be looking at the right places,” St. Pé said.

For information and to sign up for newsletters about the project, go to www.nas.edu/gulfprogram.