Christmas came early for the Cordova-based Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) when a provision to increase OSRI’s funding base was signed into law last December. It took more than six years of persistent work but the payoff will benefit oil spill research for decades to come.
Established by Congress in 1990, a year after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, OSRI is the only U.S.-based research organization focused solely on cold water oil spills. In recent years, its annual revenues declined from about $1 million to a low in 2010 of only $225,000. In 2006, OSRI staff began discussions with Alaska’s Congressional delegation to develop the legislation just passed. Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski were particularly instrumental in garnering support for its adoption.
“The OSRI funding fix was a major win for Alaska in my 2012 Coast Guard Bill,” said Senator Begich. “It makes up for losses due to inflation over the years and ensures needed research into oil spill prevention and response will continue without taking money from other programs. That research is essential,” he added, “as we look to expand oil production in the Arctic and elsewhere, and are prepared for increases in marine shipping we’re seeing through our waters.”
According to Scott Pegau, OSRI Research Program Manager, it was only because of savings from earlier year revenues that OSRI was able to afford about $600,000 in annual program grants during the low revenue years. “The OSRI Board started reducing its spending four years ago,” Pegau said, “and we had a plan for further reductions had this legislation not been approved.”
OSRI Executive Director Katrina Hoffman is also President of the Prince William Sound Science Center, the administrator for the OSRI program. “The legislation’s passage means $12.8 million will be added to the original $22.5 million principal set aside (by 1996 legislation) to support OSRI programs,” explained Hoffman. “That principle is maintained within the $3 billion National Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund; OSRI receives the interest earnings annually from the OSRI principal, which now totals $35 million. That should result in almost a 50-percent increase in the yearly revenue available to support our programs.”