The panel is initially tasked with overseeing a competitive selection process that would lead to the establishment of several research centers in the region, presumably at universities with expertise in marine and petroleum science. Scientists would then apply to these centers for money to support individual research projects.
Despite what appear to be layers insulating individual researchers from taking a direct hand-off from BP's paymaster, skeptics are wary.
In a letter earlier this month to BP chief executive officer Tony Hayward, for instance, NRDC executive director Peter Lehner argued that the advisory panel should be named by an organization such as the National Academy of Sciences. It also outlined two other criteria for independence, including no prohibition against BP-funded scientists testifying in court.
At the time, Jeffrey Short was a researcher with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration specializing in oil-contamination and other pollution issues in the region. One outcome, he says, was the establishment of the Exxon Valdez Trustee Council, set up as an independent body to distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants to study the aftermath of that environmental disaster.