Oil sign.If BP has its way, important scientific research and data could be closed off to the public.Photo courtesy Greenpeace USA 2010 via FlickrCross-posted from Think Progress.

Foreign oil giant BP is on a spending spree, buying Gulf Coast scientists for its private contractor army. Scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University, and Texas A&M have “signed contracts with BP to work on their behalf in the Natural Resources Damage Assessment (NRDA) process” that determines how much ecological damage the Gulf of Mexico region is suffering from BP’s toxic black tide. The contract, the Mobile Press-Register has learned, “prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists, or speaking about the data that they collect for at least the next three years.” Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama — whose entire department BP wished to hire — refused to sign over their integrity to the corporate criminal:

We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn’t be hearing from them again after that. We didn’t like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion.

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The lucrative $250-an-hour deal “buys silence,” said Robert Wiygul, an Ocean Springs environmental lawyer who analyzed the contract. “It makes me feel like they were more interested in making sure we couldn’t testify against them than in having us testify for them,” said George Crozier, head of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, who was approached by BP.

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These efforts to buy silence and cooperation come in addition to the $500 million Gulf Research Initiative, a Tobacco Institute-like program managed by a panel picked by BP to disburse scientific research grants in the coming years. Louisiana State University, University of Florida’s Florida Institute of Oceanography, and Mississippi State University’s Northern Gulf Institute have already accepted $10 million each.

In contrast, the federal government has failed to coordinate the massive research program needed to save the Gulf, preventing academic researchers from observing the data collected by the NRDA teams that include both government and BP contractors. “The science is already suffering,” Richard Shaw, associate dean of Louisiana State University’s School of the Coast and Environment said. “The government needs to come through with funding for the universities. They are letting go of the most important group of scientists, the ones who study the Gulf.”

(h/t The Independent Weekly)

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