BP’s $500 million deal with school calls for ‘confidential’ energy research

| 11/27/2007

The University of California-Berkley gets $500 million to research alternative energy.

Oil giant BP Amoco PLC gets access to inventions and research from some of the world’s finest laboratories.

So what’s the problem?

Some environmental and watchdog groups say the deal’s division between open and “proprietary” research sells out the university’s ethics.

In mid-November, BP agreed to pay $500 million during the next 10 years for the Energy Biosciences Institute. The new institute will study alternative energy, such as biofuels, at the University of California at Berkley, although BP can terminate the contract after three years.

Research from the University of California and other state institutions is used frequently by the California Air Resources Board as the basis for many truck emission regulations including next year’s five-minute idling limit for heavy-duty diesel trucks.

Under the BP contract, the research is divided between $35 million annually for open research and $15 million annually for proprietary research that will be kept secret.

The Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights issued a statement that the agreement “compromises the university’s commitment to public education by allowing secret corporate research on campus” and that the university system’s Board of Regents should have been able to oversee the contract.

“The University of California bureaucrats are transforming the nation’s premier research university into Big Oil U’s UC-BP campus without adequate public discussion,” said John Simpson, the foundation’s consumer advocate, according to a foundation news release. “It is shameful. The regents should have reviewed this. The public who are the shareholders of the UC system should have been able to comment.”

Nathan Murthy, a student activist at the university and a member of the Stop BP-Berkeley organization, had his own take on the matter.

“Though (the institute) operates under the ethical guise of fighting climate change or global warming, we’re dealing with large corporate funding, so there is huge commercial interest involved,” Murthy told the Daily Californian.

– By Charlie Morasch, staff writer