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Gulf scientists feel uneasy about working for BP

A team of biologists from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service catch a brown pelican covered with oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, at Sandy Point in the Gulf of Mexico, near Venice, La. Birds are caught and then cleaned at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center.

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Kai Ryssdal: The news yesterday that BP has spent almost $4 billion on the oil spill so far brings us this today: The oil company said it's agreed to sell off some natural gas fields in Vietnam. It'll net about $1.7 billion, money that'll go to the compensation fund the White House demanded. There will be many other demands on BP's coffers. It is facing hundreds of lawsuits -- which has presented an interesting dilemma for some university scientists.

From the Marketplace Education Desk, Amy Scott reports.


Amy Scott: By law, BP is required to help assess the ecological damage from the Gulf oil spill. So the company's been hiring scientists like Joe Griffitt at the University of Southern Mississippi's Gulf Coast Research Lab. He says BP offered him around $150 to $200 an hour to help draw up its response plan. He and a few colleagues initially signed on.

Joe Griffitt: It was an opportunity to, we thought, do some good working with BP. And we thought if we were on the inside, we could push on that side too and make sure that whatever BP's plan was was scientifically valid.

But when they found out they might have to testify on BP's behalf in court, Griffitt and his colleagues resigned. Bob Shipp is chairman of marine sciences at the University of South Alabama. He says his department declined to work with BP, because the company wanted to restrict how the research would be used.

Bob Shipp: Consulting is fine; it's part of academia. Most everyone consults, but you do it in an open manner. Consulting with strings attached is not fine.

In an email to Marketplace, a BP spokesman said the company has hired a number of experts to assist in both its legal defense and its response plan. He said the company has placed no restrictions on environmental data. Separately, BP has pledged $500 million over 10 years for scientific research in the Gulf. At least $25 million has been doled so far -- no strings attached.

I'm Amy Scott for Marketplace.

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