The Program arises out of a seminal event, the DWH oil spill, and its many human and ecosystem impacts. Given its $500 million endowment and 30-year duration, the Program presents an extraordinary opportunity to tackle large, complex issues at a regional scale and over the long term. It has the potential to have significant impact and offers a rare opportunity to, over time, address a wide variety of future-oriented challenges.
Taking advantage of this opportunity requires a strategic approach. The planning process identified six overarching strategies that can steer the Program toward producing lasting benefits. These are key opportunities where the mission of the Program aligns with the strengths of the National Academies and where the 30-year duration and long-term perspective hold special potential for cumulative impacts.
Based on community input and Advisory Group deliberations, six key opportunities for the Program to achieve lasting benefit were identified.
The 30-year duration assigned to the Program offers an unparalleled opportunity to implement future-oriented and long-term initiatives. Thus, as a next step in program development the Program will attempt to select several areas of work that specifically take advantage of the long-term perspective. Similarly, the agreements signal that the Program should not focus on determining the impacts of the DWH oil spill, a task being undertaken by many others, including the court system. Rather, it should look toward the future—toward preventing such disasters, minimizing adverse impacts of offshore energy production, and ensuring that the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem and surrounding human communities are resilient to shocks and long-term changes.
Another distinctive feature of the Program is geographic. The mandate given to the Program directs it to focus on the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. outer continental shelf regions that support oil and gas production. The Program will interpret this scope broadly to mean the Gulf and any U.S. marine and coastal region where human communities, ecosystems, and oil and gas exploration and development interact.
Although the central focus of the Program will remain the quest to contribute to a healthier and more resilient Gulf region, the Program is directed to operate more broadly where similar issues
are faced in other outer continental shelf areas with existing or potential energy development. It will tap relevant expertise and insights from outside the Gulf and approach issues holistically. Other states (such as Alaska) and other nations face decisions about proceeding with offshore energy development and could benefit from Gulf region activities. Other areas in the United States and around the world have experience in offshore energy development and oil spills that could provide important information. Thus, work that transfers knowledge to or from other places in the United States, the Gulf of Mexico, or other nations is possible within the scope of the Program. Collaborative work that demonstrates such linkages will be valued. Over time, the Program expects to include international perspectives and collaborations.5
Finally, the three areas of responsibility (oil system safety, human health, and environment) assigned to the Program are extremely broad. In seeking focus, the Advisory Group determined that the Program’s most valuable contributions are likely to come at the intersections of these realms. Untapped opportunities exist at these intersections to bring disparate perspectives, disciplines, and sectors together and to spur innovation.
A fundamental purpose of the Program is to bring the best expertise in science, engineering, technology, and health to help advance understanding of the Gulf of Mexico and the use of that information in decision making. Important research questions are varied, dynamic, and
5Future documents and the Program’s website (www.nas.edu/gulf) will provide details on who is eligible to apply under announced funding opportunities. For the program’s first 2 years, awards will be made only to U.S. institutions, citizens, and permanent residents; funded institutions may collaborate with individuals outside the United States.
interrelated—from understanding deep-ocean circulation, to developing new approaches to avoid future blowouts or oil spills, to understanding how communities could become more resilient to disasters and future change. The Program will encourage cross-boundary work across disciplines, across geographic borders, and across perspectives.
The Program will foster research that explores the links among people, ecosystems, and energy development, particularly the ways in which humans affect the environment and how the environment affects people (especially health and well-being). It will seek to create opportunities that encourage new ways of thinking and potentially transformative science and technology.
The Program will seek to foster science that serves the needs of the region’s numerous and diverse communities. This science will include “translational research”6 or “actionable” science that is focused on the ways in which new knowledge can be used by the public, resource managers, program managers, community planners, and other decision makers and how the public can
6Translational research is research that strives to translate scientific discoveries into tangible human benefit. It is practiced in many fields, but is perhaps best known in medicine in a movement to move scientific findings “from bench to bedside” (Sung et al., 2003).
Department of the Interior Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Strategy
inform priorities for new science initiatives. This approach requires an understanding of the concerns and priorities of communities and policy decision makers and the means to transfer knowledge from basic research settings to those associated with the implementation of that knowledge. For example, research to identify opportunities to speed postdisaster recovery can be coupled with research on policy implementation that would encourage decision makers to take advantage of these opportunities.
Translational research includes efforts to develop and encourage the adoption of best practices to maximize the impact of research. A particularly promising option for the Program in this area is the identification of best scientific practices, such as those for design, monitoring, and evaluation of restoration projects. Generally, the Program will emphasize regional and ecosystem approaches over state or locally focused activities, striving for insights with broad applicability.
The Program recognizes that there is a great need for increased attention to the synthesis and integration of data and information, especially across disciplines. Scientific synthesis is the integration or merging of diverse research to obtain novel insights or to increase the generality
The U.S. Department of the Interior, through the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), oversees an Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) Oil and Gas Leasing Program that establishes the areas that may be leased for offshore energy development. The most recent leasing window covers a 5-year period (2012–2017). Currently, 218.94 million acres of the U.S. OCS are open for development: (A) 125.19 million acres in Alaska and (B) 93.75 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. Seismic studies are allowed in the mid- and south Atlantic, but no leases will be issued in this area before 2017. SOURCE: BOEM.
and applicability of scientific research. Modes of scientific synthesis include integration of methods, data aggregation, reuse of results, and conceptual synthesis (Sidlauskas et al., 2009).7 There may be opportunities to explore “big data” to gain new insights. Traditional consensus studies and workshops conducted under the auspices of the National Academies often are designed to synthesize the best available information and translate new understanding into action.
Different modes of synthesis can be applied within or across disciplines and professional sectors to improve understanding of the Gulf of Mexico as an ecosystem. For example, aggregated archival oil industry and Department of the Interior data collected for leasing and exploration activities during the 1970s and 1980s could be compared to current data collections to develop environmental reference points in assessing disaster impacts and long-term changes. Assessing health effects from environmental contamination as a result of oil and gas exploration might be done by linking datasets across disciplines.
The Program will seek opportunities to facilitate the process through leadership, policies, and investments. For example, the Program may invest in research supporting data systems of the
7In data aggregation, multiple datasets are merged and analyzed, typically to address questions at new and larger scales. The reuse of results involves using data in a new context, as in the case of meta-analyses. With integration of methods, two or more methods are combined to create a new analytical pathway. Conceptual synthesis bridges the theories and paradigms that underpin previous studies.
future; help establish the meta-analysis agenda; catalyze partnerships around data generation, management, and use; and assist in supporting the development of technologies, protocols, and standards.
The Program recognizes that it is but one program among many operating in the Gulf region. Nevertheless, the status of the NAS as an independent, nonprofit organization with a long history of consensus building allows the organization to serve as a neutral convener of diverse perspectives. In this role, the Program can provide leadership and participate in efforts that facilitate coordination and build partnerships, including on emerging or controversial topics. For example, the Program intends to be a catalyst in the area of environmental monitoring, where the needs are expansive and expensive and thus no one organization can succeed alone.
The Program will allocate resources to conduct targeted workshops and assessments that could facilitate partnerships. Program staff will continue to interact regularly with other related Gulf region funding organizations to ensure communication and seek opportunities for coordination and collaboration. The Program recognizes the importance of engaging with a diverse range of stakeholders so its work will be informed by those who live and work in the Gulf and understand the region’s needs and challenges. Over time, the Program will continue to improve
communications and engagement methods so that it contributes to and benefits from a two-way flow of information. The Program has a special opportunity to look at the Gulf region holistically, as a region and not as separate states, and bring a national dimension into the dialog.
Through a range of activities over the 30 years, the Program will seek to invest in capacity building—providing opportunities for emerging academic and community leaders, state and regional decision makers, students, and institutions to develop skills, competencies, and capabilities that are needed to solve problems, spark innovation, and establish more sustainable systems, economies, and communities. By providing opportunities for leadership development, a next generation of individuals and institutions can emerge prepared to think broadly and innovatively to resolve problems in complex, multistressed social–ecological systems and enhance community resilience.
The Program recognizes the diversity of people and cultures in areas such as the Gulf region and other U.S. outer continental shelf areas with existing or potential oil and gas development. It will seek ways to engage and facilitate the participation of institutions, organizations, and diverse populations in relevant work. In addition, workforce demands are likely to evolve significantly over the next 30 years, increasing the need for a workforce that is flexible and can adapt to changes in technology, safety requirements, and workplace demands.