Deepwater Horizon oil spill: How universities put morals over finance following the disaster

financeIt may have happened six years ago, but reports are only just starting to surface highlighting the financial damage that hit BP during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in April 2010. The energy company have suggested that it has cost approximately $62bn over the years, with the bulk of this being drawn from compensation, fines and various legal bills.

It means that BP’s finances have been put under tremendous strain. However, while they may have seemingly been paying fines left, right and center, there were some organizations that stood firm and opted not to profit from the oil disaster.

In the aftermath that followed the spill, BP acted quickly to contact universities in a bid to collect as many qualified academics to fight their corner and provide research that could aid them in various legal battles.

However, as it turns out, universities and research departments weren’t quite as co-operative as some may have first assumed. Russ Lea, who was the VP of Research Operations at the University of South Alabama when the disaster took place, penned an interesting article highlighting how discussions took place – but ultimately never came to anything (at least with his department).

Some of the revelations are tremendously insightful and considering the vast sums that BP has been forced to pay out over the years, it appears hugely impressive that many academic research departments were able to turn away their advances and ultimately turn away the gigantic profits that could have come their way.

So, why did they turn down potentially tens of millions of dollars’ worth of investment? They stood firm morally, as we’ll now find out.

They were happy to do the research – but it couldn’t affect their other work

Let’s put the facts on the table – academics weren’t completely against performing research for BP.

They were more than happy to conduct research for BP – but this couldn’t, under any circumstances, interfere with their other research.

In other words, if they were researching the Gulf of Mexico, they would not be forced to stop this due to an agreement.

As it turns out, this was a stipulation that would be enforced. BP requested that any other work did not conflict with “BP-related work” – and this is the main reason that academics just couldn’t come to any sort of agreement. It would mean generating one-sided research.

They wanted their work, regardless of the findings, to be published

Putting research findings in the public domain is exciting for researchers – it almost puts them on the map and is a reward for years of hard work.

Therefore, when BP stipulated that any new research couldn’t be published for three years – it was a major turn off. It meant that any research wouldn’t be transparent and for a professional involved in R&D, this just doesn’t work.

Selling science is wrong

The term “selling science” is often used to describe the way this topic. BP were attempting to control the science that was outputted by researchers – releasing the information that could aid them, whilst holding back anything that could hurt them.

Suffice to say, it creates that one-sided problem again. While researchers across universities could have cashed in significant sums of money through the crisis, morals certainly prevailed and meant that many opted to work in an ethical manner which was a credit to their profession.

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