BP looking to contract Southern Miss Scientists

By Sheri Falk - bio | email | Twitter

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - British Petroleum has tried to contract with several regional Universities to hire their entire Coastal Science Departments, but Southern Miss says its Coastal and Marine Research Departments are not for sale.

Denis Wiescenburg, vice president of research at USM says, as part of the National Resource Damage Assessment BP is seeking out marine scientists with several public Universities along the Gulf Coast.

"BP is looking to work with them so they can offer advice on their part of the plan," said Wiescenburg.

According to other media outlets, the foreign oil company was looking to pay scientists from Louisiana State University, Texas A&M and Southern Miss money for their research under the veil of confidentiality but Wiescenburg said that is no longer the case.

"The agreement that our faculty have is not going to have a requirement of that," he added. "The faculty from the university will be able to talk to the media, to talk to their colleagues and they will be allowed to publish their work."

BP's earlier proposal did pose challenges for faculty members according to Wiescenburg because  they would not have been allowed to publish their results, or speak out about their findings for 3 yrs.

"BP was sensitive to the comments people made about that and we understand they are now changing that now to allow more flexibility in the agreements."

The Federal Government may not be flexible, scientists tied to BP may no longer be eligible for federal research funding for the oil spill.

Wiescenburg says,"if a large number of faculty were excluded from federal research dollars than that would be a concern for the university cause the state and the nation depends on the research our faculty does."

For now only a handful of faculty members are thinking about signing on with BP and the University is standing behind their academic freedom. Other USM scientists are hopeful that more federal funding will come.

"We haven't seen a lot of that funding from the Federal Government for the oil spill, so faculty who want to participate in developing the National Research Damage Assessment Plan don't really have anywhere else to turn. The federal government is not coming and saying can you help us develop this plan and BP has. So, no matter who is paying the bill they are going to give their best analysis of the scientific info that is available to them."

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