Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Inks Deal With Saudi Aramco
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), one of the premier climate research institutions in the world, has signed deals to assist foreign oil companies seek deep-sea carbon reserves, the Boston Globe reports.
In the coming days, according to officials at Woods Hole, the institution is set to sign agreements with Saudi Aramco, the primary oil company owned by the Saudi government, to study the potential for “hydrocarbons” in the Red Sea. It is also preparing to ink a deal for a “simulation study” on behalf of the Italian oil company Eni, while it has half a dozen other proposals in the works with unnamed corporations, the officials said.
Woods Hole’s new Center for Marine Robotics is the vessel for the petrodollars. As the center’s industry sponsorship page notes, benefits for funding companies include the ability to “establish a portfolio of sponsored research projects or define an engineering research program tailored to your company’s needs, with negotiated IP rights.”
The center’s interim director, marine robotics expert Dana Yoerger, is on the board of BP’s Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, a project established by the oil giant following the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Before joining the BP-funded project, Yoerger had participated in a NSF-funded effort to map the undersea hydrocarbon plume from the gushing wellhead.
This new deal with Saudi Aramco follows Woods Hole’s $25 million 2008 partnership for Red Sea research with Saudi Aramco’s King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST). That research partnership conducted research global warming and ocean acidification to Red Sea coral reefs. James Luyten, a former director of Woods Hole, joined KAUST in 2008 to direct its Red Sea Science and Engineering Research Center. According to Luyten, academic freedom at KAUST is curtailed by Saudi Arabia’s petrostate interests, directing research towards biofuels and away from the impacts of climate change caused by fossil fuels.
“Woods Hole has historically received most of its funding from federal research grants, which has helped ensure its independence,” the Globe’s Bryan Bender notes. “But cutbacks at a variety of agencies — and a near-halving of its Pentagon research dollars in the last three years — has prompted it to seek new sources of funding.”
Woods Hole recently touted its involvement in the National Climate Assessment, which found that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible for the global warming and ocean acidification that is dramatically altering the oceans.
Update: Woods Hole has issued a response. “Climate research tells us that human society should wean itself quickly from fossil fuels,” the webpage states. “But the hard fact is that our society still relies on oil, and oil companies are looking for it in ever-deeper and more remote waters where they have limited experience.” The response does not deny that Woods Hole will assist Saudi Aramco’s search for oil in the Red Sea.