Advancing Responsible Stewardship of Offshore Energy Development

Knauss Fellow Kimberly Bittler

The availability of resources and possibilities for energy production make the Texas Gulf Coast an important region for economic growth. However, energy’s contribution to economic growth cannot be isolated from its environmental and ecological impacts on the marine environment.

The Texas Sea Grant College Program of Texas A&M University serves the Texas Gulf Coast region by focusing academic strength and educational activities to address topics related to the understanding and wise use of the sea.

The program has a long history of nominating recent graduates from Texas for the prestigious Dean John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship that provides graduate students with marine policy experience in the Legislative and Executive branches of the United States government. The Fellowship - named after former NOAA administrator and Sea Grant Founder John A. Knauss - was created for students with an interest in ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resources, and the national policy decisions affecting those resources.

Earlier this year, Texas Sea Grant nominated Knauss Fellow, Kimberly Bittler, started her year long fellowship at the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) in its Headquarters in Washington D.C. Bittler - who completed her Master of Science in Marine Science in 2013 - was selected for the Knauss Fellowship through the National Sea Grant Federal Fellows Program. As Research Coordinator, she works with the research arms of BSEE and acts as a liaison between research groups and strategic engagement programs. She also works on the National Ocean Policy (NOP), which includes identifying actions implementing the NOP, coordinating, and drafting reports on BSEE’s accomplishments.

The offshore oil and natural gas industry within the United States is a significant contributor to the national economy, employment, government revenues, and domestic energy production. However, offshore operations pose the risk of oil spills that can have lasting ecological and environmental impacts. To regulate activities that occur in the ocean, BSEE evaluates and enforces the responsible development of new and emerging technologies for offshore oil and gas industry, and mitigates risk associated with the human element across offshore operations.

“The research done at BSEE improves safety offshore and protects the environment by minimizing the risk of oil spills (e.g. through technology barriers), and ensuring the development of effective tools and technologies to respond to an oil spill, should one occur. Sharing BSEE’s research internationally facilitates the development of benchmarking, and increases the knowledge of the global industry, thus making operations safer everywhere. BSEE also coordinates with other agencies to help create a predictable regulatory environment that protects workers and the environment,” notes Bittler.

Since its inception in 1979, the Knauss Fellowship program has brought 54 Texas Sea Grant nominated fellows to our nation’s capitol to join other highly qualified graduate students from across the nation with hosts in legislative or executive offices on Capitol Hill. Bittler became intrigued with science policy during college, where she pursued a double degree in environmental policy and biology with a minor in chemistry. After completing her Masters of Science degree, she decided to apply for the Knauss Fellowship and pursue a career that allows her to work in the interface of science and policy. Kimberly is expanding her policy experience by working within a federal agency, learning how science is applied to inform policy and decision making at BSEE, and helping BSEE share research that makes offshore operations safer.   Kimberly’s experience with BSEE is helping her achieve a career goal of using her scientific background to help shape policy that is in sync with science and stakeholders.

For more information about Texas Sea Grant College Program or Knauss Fellowship, please contact, Dr. Mona Behl at 979-458-0449,

Texas Sea Grant is a unique partnership that unites the resources of the federal government, the State of Texas and universities across the state to create knowledge, tools, products and services that benefit the economy, the environment and the citizens of Texas. It is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is one of 33 university-based Sea Grant Programs around the country. Texas Sea Grant is a non-academic research center in the College of Geosciences at Texas A&M University. The program’s mission is to improve the understanding, wise use and stewardship of Texas coastal and marine resources.  

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