The Justice Department continues to impose stifling restrictions on independent scientists seeking to study the catastrophic effects of Gulf spill, according to one scientist.
In an opinion piece at The Scientist, ecosystem biologist Linda Hooper-Bui explains her frustration with corporations and government bureaucracies, both of which have been preventing independent scientists like her from accessing the Gulf of Mexico.
"I want to collect data to answer scientific questions absent a corporate or governmental agenda. I won't collect data specifically to support the government's lawsuit against BP nor will I collect data only to be used in BP's defense," says Hooper-Bui.
But doing so has been a difficult task.
In May, a US Fish an Wildlife officer took away ant samples from some of Hooper-Bui's PhD students because their project had not been approved by Incident Command, a joint program of BP and federal agencies.
"Because I choose not to work for BP's consultants or NRDA, my job is difficult and access to study sites is limited."
The media also felt the effects of limited access to the Gulf through restrictions on plane and boat traffic that made it difficult to document the worst spill in U.S. history.
Although Hooper-Bui could gain almost infinite access to the Gulf by choosing to work for BP or a government bureaucracy like the NRDA, she notes that discussing her research would be limited by stringent confidentiality agreements.
"The price of secrecy involved with participating in [National Resource Damage Assessment] or conducting research under the auspices of BP is too high. My students and I couldn't discuss our data, results or experiences for three years or until the litigation against BP is settled," she wrote.
As Agence France-Presse reported, scientists in the Gulf of Mexico have already found that the larvae of blue crabs has been tainted with oil. An ominous finding, according to Bob Thomas, a biologist at Loyola University, because, "it would suggest the oil has reached a position where it can start moving up the food chain instead of just hanging in the water."
"Something likely will eat those oiled larvae ... and then that animal will be eaten by something bigger and so on," Thomas noted.
Like the blue crabs in the Gulf, the effect of the spill on the insects and arthropods studied by Hooper-Bui is an important indicator of the impact on the coastal ecosystem.
"Insects were not a primary concern when oil was gushing into the Gulf, but now they may be the best indicator of stressor effects on the coastal northern Gulf of Mexico," wrote Hooper-Bui. "Those stressors include oil, dispersants, and cleanup activities."
With the tight regulations imposed by BP and federal agencies, Hooper-Bui worries that "the independent researcher may be added to the list of species that will be endangered by this ecological disaster."