Oh, the oil crisis. Perhaps it’s best summed up by Stephen Colbert’s joke that the hottest Christmas gift this December will be a “clean-it-yourself egret.” And even forgetting the poor pelicans for a moment, this spill has led people to scrutinize oil giant BP for its questionable safety regulations. So let’s all take a deep breath while we remember that BP funds UCB’s very own Energy Biosciences Institute.

Naturally, this fact raises some eyebrows. BP pledged $500 million to the institute, which looks for green energy sources. Some people worry that this is undue corporate influence. Anthro professor Laura Nader (sister of Ralph) shares this worry: “Your anthropology faculty told you this was a criminal corporation,” she wrote to the chancellor. “Listen to the anthropologists – we know some things that other scientists might not.” Zing.

BP does have some influence over the lab. One postdoctoral student who works at the institute explained that she has to consult with BP before presenting her research, and they also have first rights to license inventions by lab employees. Also, our beloved Steven Chu’s undersecretary of energy worked for BP in 2007 and helped get Berkeley the $500 million.

On the other side, Berkeley people insist that green energy was a priority well before BP came knocking. Institute director Chris Somerville put it this way: “… we certainly don’t endorse everything BP does. But we don’t endorse everything the federal government does, and we take money from them as well.”

But hey, before we get into this fight, let’s clean the pelicans off. We need to prioritize.

BP funds search for green fuels at UC Berkeley [Sacramento Bee]
Image source: IBRRC under Creative Commons

Ricardo Bearcardo Gomez said:
Jun 18, 2010 at 7:36 pm


With the devastating aftermath of BP’s irresponsibility in the Gulf Coast on front pages across the nation, it is time to reflect on the BP-Berkeley research agreement. Should UC Berkeley be engaged in for-profit research for one of the most irresponsible and evil corporations on earth, responsible for the largest environmental disaster in the history of the US?

The BP-Berkeley deal explicitly states that the research agreement can be terminated if association with BP is counter to UC Berkeley’s values. If BP’s actions are not counter to UC Berkeley’s values, then what on earth is?