Activists protest UC Berkeley, BP project


Friday's protest was just one of many going on around the country. It's two purposes included reminding people that even though the leak in the gulf has been capped, the damage from the spill will linger for many years, and these protesters want UC Berkeley to rethink its research partnership with oil giant BP.

The demonstration marked the 100th day of the BP oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Black markings on stuffed animals were used to symbolize all the damage done to the environment and wildlife over the past three months.

The backdrop was the site where the new Helios Energy Research facility is under construction. It is a building that will house the Energy Biosciences Institute at UC Berkeley -- a project funded with $500 million from BP.

"We ask the public, given what BP's done to the Gulf of Mexico, why should it be trusted with science at the University of California?" protest organizer Stephanie Tang said.

"The disaster in the gulf has really only strengthened our conviction," UC Berkeley spokesman Dan Mogulof said. He believes the massive oil spill illustrates the need for a research institute with the primary focus of finding alternatives to petroleum-based fuels. "The primary research goal is to develop new forms of carbon-neutral energy that will minimize or eliminate the need to drill for oil in environmentally or politically sensitive regions of the world."

The UC/BP partnership has been hotly debated since its inception three years ago when some faculty worried corporate goals would be put ahead of academic freedom.

"The research is designed by our faculty according to their interests and no one else's," Mogulof said. "We call the shots on what gets researched."

Mogulof also says the money UC gets from BP is relatively small.

This year, UC Berkeley will receive $724 million in research dollars. About $70 million will come from corporations, $17 million from BP.

"I don't care whether they're trying to do good or not. We need to get away from corporations because any good that they're trying to do is just for their bottom line," protester Mary Ann Thomas said.

The bottom line for the university, according to Mogulof, is that they have no plans to reconsider their partnership with BP now or in the future. Construction is well under way and set for completion in 2013.

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