On Tuesday Senator Maria Cantwell held a press conference in Seattle regarding the need for better research and development on oil spill prevention and response. She announced that she will soon chair a hearing and introduce legislation that will require the oil industry to incorporate the latest and best technologies into their oil spill prevention and response plans. The Senator proposed a joint Research & Development center between NOAA and the UW, an idea that the UW School of Marine Affairs has been exploring.
The UW Seaglider, which was present at the event, drew a lot of attention as an example of technology that, with some investment, could be much more useful in the event of an oil spill. Lisa Graumlich, the Dean of the College of the Environment (COEnv) said there are currently six Seagliders in the Gulf of Mexico aiding scientists and the government in identifying underwater oil plumes. However, the Seagliders were developed as instruments for basic research and currently don’t have the power to carry large, heavy hydrocarbon sensors which would do a better job at finding the oil plumes. Instead of detecting the oil itself, they are searching for a proxy for oil – an example of making do with the technology we have instead of the specific technology we need. Dean Graumlich emphasized that we do not require a major scientific breakthrough because the UW already has monitoring systems that examine the quality and movement of water in the Sound. With some tweaking, those technologies could be used to determine how an oil spill would spread through the Sound.
Several UW researchers and staff attended the event in support of the proposed legislation and to emphasize the need for more investment in research and development. Dean Graumlich was accompanied by UW COEnv colleagues Russ McDuff (Director, School of Oceanography), David Armstrong (Director, School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences), Fritz Stahr (Manager, Seaglider Fabrication Center), and Deanna Congdon (Advancement Specialist). The group was also joined by Christy Gullion (Director, Office of Federal Relations) and COEnv Communication Director Michelle Ackerman.