In an explosive first-hand account, ecosystem biologist Linda Hooper-Bui describes how Obama administration and BP lawyers are making independent scientific analysis of the Gulf region an impossibility. Hooper-Bui has found that only scientists who are part of the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process to determine BP’s civil liability get full access to contaminated sites and research data. Pete Tuttle, USFWS environmental contaminant specialist and Department of Interior NRDA coordinator, admitted to The Scientist that “researchers wishing to formally participate in NRDA must sign a contract that includes a confidentiality agreement” that “prevents signees from releasing information from studies and findings until authorized by the Department of Justice at some later and unspecified date.” Hooper-Bui writes:
It’s not hazardous conditions associated with oil and dispersants that are hampering our scientific efforts. Rather, it’s the confidentiality agreements that come with signing up to work on large research projects shepherded by government entities and BP and the limited access to coastal areas if you’re not part of those projects that are stifling the public dissemination of data detailing the environmental impact of the catastrophe.
Hooper-Bui’s depictions of samples confiscated by US Fish and Wildlife officials and expeditions blocked by local law enforcement is consistent with the steady stream of reports about obstruction, censorship, and confusion under BP’s private army of contractors. A full and open scientific assessment of the effects of the BP disaster is crucial for the health of the ecosystem and the residents of this American jewel.