While the victims of the massive oil spill are suffering and see little hope for their future, BP has been busy planning its defense to their victims’ claims. For the last few weeks, BP has been offering signing bonuses and lucrative pay to prominent scientists from public universities in the Gulf Coast states to work on its defense against spill litigation. Part of the defense plan is to put in a conflict situation all potential experts who might work for victims’ lawyers. For example, BP tried to hire the entire marine sciences department at The University of South Alabama. To its credit, the university declined because of confidentiality restrictions that BP sought on any research done.
The Mobile Press-Register obtained a copy of a contract offered to scientists by BP. It prohibits the scientists from publishing their research, sharing it with other scientists or speaking about the data they collect for at least the next three years. Bob Shipp, head of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama, told the Mobile paper:
We told them there was no way we would agree to any kind of restrictions on the data we collect. It was pretty clear we wouldn’t be hearing from them again after that. We didn’t like the perception of the university representing BP in any fashion.
There is no telling how many scientists and universities have been approached by BP. Some will accept the offers and take BP’s money. Why would the company impose confidentiality restrictions on scientific data gathered on its behalf? BP will pay tremendous amounts in an attempt to corner the market on available experts. That is an indication of the oil giant’s arrogance and its true intent when it comes to paying claims and cleaning up the mess it has caused.
The Press-Register reported that scientists from Louisiana State University, Mississippi State University and Texas A&M have already accepted BP’s proposals. Scientists who study marine invertebrates, plankton, marsh environments, oceanography, sharks and other topics have been solicited. The contract makes it clear that BP is seeking to add scientists to the legal team that will fight the Natural Resources Damage Assessment lawsuit that the federal government will bring as a result of the Gulf oil spill. Individual claims will also be affected.
Richard Shaw, associate dean of LSU’s School of the Coast and Environment, says that the BP contracts are hindering the scientific community’s ability to monitor the effects of the Gulf spill. The contract requires scientists to agree to withhold data even in the face of a court order if BP decides to fight such an order. It stipulates that scientists will be paid only for research approved in writing by BP. The contracts have the added impact of limiting the number of scientists who would be available to work with federal agencies.
Source: Mobile Press-Register
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