Former MBARI president Marcia McNutt is tough cop in BP cleanup.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Thousands of miles from its home in the Monterey Bay, a robot gulped oily Gulf of Mexico water and sent information about the oil plume to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
And in June, when scientists were estimating that between 12,600 and 40,000 barrels per day were escaping from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, U.S. Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt – former president and chief executive officer of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute – boldly told reporters that current estimates were likely too low. The correct amount was more in the 50,000-barrel-a-day range, she said. Since scientists were not ready to make those assumptions yet, she added, “I’ll make them for them,” prompting the New York Times headline, “USGS Director Quietly Wages ‘Fearless’ War on Oil Spill.”
Shortly afterward, the federal government upped its numbers, confirming McNutt’s statement.
Monterey Bay researchers and scientists played a vital role in the aftermath of the BP disaster. (Company officials recently said they closed the well that had been spewing oil into the Gulf.)
McNutt oversaw six teams of scientists that estimated the size of the leak. And in congressional testimony, she criticized the federal government for being too trusting of safety assurances from oil companies prior to the April 20 drilling rig explosion that killed 11 workers.
“It’s a huge challenge, but Marcia McNutt is just the kind of person who can take on these tough jobs and make things happen,” says new MBARI President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Scholin. NOAA is expected to release a report with information about the oil plume shortly, he adds. MBARI’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) launched into Gulf waters May 28 to help scientists study the extent of any underwater oil plumes.
After finding the plume and mapping its boundaries, the AUV uses a “gulper” to take water samples inside and outside of the plume. Scientists then analyze the samples for oil and dispersant chemicals, which provides information about the spill’s impacts and also how to respond to similar events in the future, Scholin explains.
Monterey Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel) says while the Gulf disaster may not directly affect the Central Coast of California, “It’s a wake-up call to humanity, and it reminds us of the importance of what we’ve been doing to protect the California coast from new drilling – which was a key aspect of the governor’s budget proposal last year that we defeated.”
Since the BP oil spill, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has advocated clean energy solutions, telling the Governor’s Summit on the Advanced Transportation Industry in June, “It is shameful how desperate and how dependent we have become on fossil fuels. One needs only to look to the Gulf of Mexico and the tragedy and what happens when you just rely on oil.”
Monning calls on the governor and lawmakers to take this kind of rhetoric a step further and charge an oil-extraction fee for companies that drill for oil in southern Monterey County and other parts of the state.
“California is the only oil-producing state that doesn’t have an oil-extraction fee,” Monning says, adding that this tax would help offset the state’s budget deficit. “When we look at the governor’s current budget, [with] wholesale elimination of safety-net programs, we are not reconciling the cost of fossil fuels to our environmental objectives and our social and economic priorities.”