Texas invests oil spill settlement into habitat conservation

Hannah Jane DeCiutiis

Texas is the first state affected by the BP oil spill to use settlement money from a BP investor for habitat conservation efforts, leading to more coastal restoration attempts in the future.

The 2010 spill was a result of an explosion of the offshore drill Deepwater Horizon, which was drilling on a well operated by BP. BP investor MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC agreed to settle their liabilities in the spill, giving the state of Texas $6.5 million, according to the Texas attorney general’s website. Part of Texas’ settlement money will go towards acquiring 80 acres of land from the Goose Island State Park in Aransas, Texas to create a safe habitat for the whooping crane population, according to the Texas Parks & Wildlife website.

Katelyn Jordan, biology senior and Marine Science Club historian, said she supports the move towards conserving the whooping crane’s habitat and hopes to see more work in vulnerable coastline areas in the future.

“Some of the most fragile areas on the coastline are estuaries and coastal watershed areas because they really dictate things like salinity levels,” Jordan said. “Those are areas most impacted by oil spills. A lot smaller organisms like coastal birds live in that kind of environment and I definitely think it’s important to work to conserve their habitat.”

Conservation of habitats such as the whooping crane’s is just of one several initiatives environmentalists hope to act on, said Don Pitts, state coordinator for the Kills and Spills Team for Texas Parks & Wildlife.

“Habitat preservation is one of several different opportunities we utilize,” Pitts said. “We either like to preserve or protect, or create additional habitats in order to offset some of these damages.”

Pitts said the use of the settlement money to acquire state land for these efforts is an appropriate use of the funds.

“It’s a great opportunity to use restoration dollars to improve habitat using Texas resources,” Pitts said. “It’s a wonderful tract of land and a great opportunity for us to acquire and use it for this kind of preservation.”

Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation, said Texas was less affected by the spill than other states, which allows officials to allocate this money for other conservation efforts, such as helping the whooping crane.

“This settlement is just a fraction of the overall case,” Stokes said. “[MOEX] is just one of the dependents. The settlement is going to be split among the five states, but a little more will go to states that were more affected. Even though we didn’t have more oil on our shores, our resources were still affected in the Gulf. This will go to more general coastal protection and conservation.”

Stokes said further settlement money from the spill could potentially be allocated to continued coastal restoration if Congress passes the RESTORE Act of 2011. Stokes said the RESTORE Act of 2011, which has not yet been passed by Congress, would require 80 percent of any settlement funds from the spill to go towards these coastal restoration projects. He said the current conservation efforts being made by Texas are additional attempts at restoration without the prompting of the RESTORE Act.

Printed on Thursday, April 12, 2012 as: Texas environmental initiatives gain funds from BP settlement