Playing Sides on Arctic Research

A polar bear researcher is being investigated for opposing oil and gas industry research initiative in the Arctic, while supporting a similar proposal from NOAA.

Aug 13, 2012
Hayley Dunning

Charles Monnett, a wildlife biologist working for the US Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has been under investigation since July 2011, when he was suspended from his post as a contracting official, responsible for review and oversight of research conducted by outside groups. Until now, the only explanation for the investigation from BOEM has been "integrity issues," but new documents obtained by Nature reveal that Monnett actively supported a proposal from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to conduct a study synthesizing Arctic research, while resisting a similar proposal from oil and gas companies.

NOAA proposed integrating research on different sectors of the Arctic environment to determine the impact of oil and gas exploration in the far North. Monnett communicated with the NOAA researchers between February and May 2011, making edits and giving advice on how to strengthen to their draft proposal. NOAA was awarded the contract soon after.

At the same time, the BOEM was considering a similar project that proposed a partnership between government and the oil industry, which it appears Monnett vocally criticized, saying it duplicated the NOAA project. The watchdog group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), which is providing legal representation for Monnett, argued that because the NOAA project constitutes an agreement between two government agencies, it is not clear whether Monnett broke ethical rules by collaborating on the NOAA proposal.

The investigation is now complete, but the results have not yet been released, as the BOEM has not decided what action to take.