Will Feds Shut Down Independent Research on Gulf Spill Impacts?

August 25, 2010

Federal officers have been confiscating the notes and samples of independent academic researchers in the Gulf of Mexico — and telling them they are not allowed to study damage from the BP oil spill to natural resources from public lands and waters.

Despite the lack of any legal basis for such actions, officers of the US Fish & Wildlife Service say they are justified by the "Natural Resource Damage Assessment" process under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Department of Homeland Security agents, who have also chased scientists from public waters, have told the scientists their acts are justified by "national security."

The NRDA process is an adversarial legal process, pitting (in this case) the federal government against BP. Both sides seek to keep science supporting their case confidential — but the law contains no restrictions on scientists uninvolved in the case.

The story came out on the August 20, 2010, broadcast of NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow, the complete audio of which is available online here.

A fuller version of this story with further links is available on SEJ's The Daily Glob.