Public Release: 

NAS Gulf Research Program announces strategic vision, initial opportunities

National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

WASHINGTON - A new strategic vision document, released today by the National Academy of Sciences' Gulf Research Program, 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 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion, the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. 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.

An advisory group appointed by NAS last year worked to gather input from individuals and organizations in the Gulf region, learn from organizations with similar missions, and identify unmet needs in the region that align with the program's mandate. Its efforts culminated with the creation of a strategic vision document that will guide the Gulf Research Program over its first five years, with the recognition that the program will evolve over time.

"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, president of the National Academy of Sciences. "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 we began to envision what this program might look like, we thought about what it could cause to happen that would not have happened otherwise, and what opportunities it could offer to inspire innovative, integrated thinking about the challenges faced by people along the Gulf coast," said Barbara A. Schaal, chair of the advisory group and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "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.

In its planning process, the advisory group identified six overarching strategies to steer the program's activities toward producing lasting benefits: a long-term focus across state, disciplinary, and sectoral boundaries; science to advance understanding in the context of linkages among people, ecosystems, and energy development; science to serve community needs; synthesis and integration of data and information across disciplines; coordination and partnerships; and leadership and capacity building.

As the program continues to receive its funds over the next few years, it will start with small, short-term activities and evolve to include a balance of short-term, medium-term, and long-term efforts, with an emphasis on cross-boundary approaches that catalyze work across disciplines, geographic borders, perspectives, and sectors.

Initial Activities and Funding Opportunities

In early fall 2014, the Gulf Research Program will issue first calls for applications in three areas:

  • Exploratory Grants. The program will welcome proposals from individuals or teams from eligible U.S. institutions on two topics: exploring approaches for effective education and training of workers in the offshore oil and gas industry and health professions, and linking ecosystem services related to and influenced by oil and gas production to human health and well-being.

  • Early-Career Research Fellowships. Two-year fellowships will be awarded to pre-tenure faculty at U.S. colleges, universities, and research institutions who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, performance, and potential for future contributions to improving oil system safety, the environment, or human health. Fellowship funds will be used primarily for research-related expenses and professional development.

  • Science Policy Fellowships. Awarded to graduate and professional school students or those who have completed their graduate studies no more than five years before beginning the fellowship, science policy fellowships will be granted either to spend one year on the staff of a state legislature, state environmental, natural resources, oil and gas, or public health agency, or regional office of relevant federal agencies; or to participate in the Academy's existing Christine Mirzayan Science and Technology Policy Graduate Fellowship program in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, the program anticipates announcing its first competition in the area of environmental monitoring, in which applicants will be challenged to propose hypothesis-driven projects that identify and synthesize existing data related to either the deep Gulf or ecosystem services for restoration and management themes.

Given that the program's funds are to be expended over 30 years, program areas of emphasis, research themes, and specific activities will evolve over time. In general, the program is not expected to supplement existing, separately sponsored work, nor will it support on-the-ground restoration activities, which are the purview of other significant programs. Similarly, the program will not focus on determining the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but will look toward the future - toward helping to prevent such disasters, minimizing adverse impacts of offshore energy production, and ensuring that the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and surrounding communities are resilient to high-impact events and long-term changes.

The advisory group's term will end on Sept. 30, 2014, 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.

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The National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine are private, independent nonprofit institutions that provide science, technology, and health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to NAS in 1863. For more information on the Gulf Research Program, visit http://national-academies.org/gulf.

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