Vessels monitor a oil burn in the area of the Deepwater Horizon disaster on the Gulf of Mexico, Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP officials have placed a containment cap over the leak in hopes that the flow of oil will be diminished. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
President Barack Obama makes a statement after being briefed on the BP oil spill relief efforts in the Gulf Coast region, Friday, June 4, 2010, at Louis Armstrong International New Orleans Airport in Kenner, La. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Protesters gather outside of the BP offices in San Francisco on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 to demonstrate against the Gulf oil rig disaster. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
This image from video provided by BP PLC early Sunday morning, June 13, 2010 shows oil continuing to pour out at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. The Coast Guard has demanded that BP step up its efforts to contain the oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the weekend, telling the British oil giant that its slow pace in stopping the spill is becoming increasingly alarming as the disaster fouled the coastline in ugly new ways Saturday. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
This image from video provided by BP PLC early Sunday morning, June 20, 2010 shows oil continuing to gush millions of gallons a day, from the broken wellhead, at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
GULF SHORES, AL - JUNE 08: Workers pick up oil patches and tar that washed up on the beach at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 8, 2010 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Early reports indicate that BP's latest plan to stem the flow of oil from the site of the Deepwater Horizon incident may be having some success. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Oil floats in the Gulf of Mexico near Orange Beach, Alabama, U.S., on Friday, June 18, 2010. The BP Plc oil spill, which began when the leased Transocean Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, is gushing as much as 60,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, the government said. Photographer: Kari Goodnough/Bloomberg
Oil cleanup workers hired by BP pick up oil on the beach in Gulf Shores, Ala., Friday, July 2, 2010. Oil from the Deepwater Horizon incident is expected to come ashore over the July 4th weekend. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)
In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC at 18:17 CDT, a new containment cap, top, is lowered over the broken wellhead at the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Monday, July 12, 2010. Deep-sea robots swarmed around BP's ruptured oil well Monday in a delicately choreographed effort to attach the tighter-fitting cap that could finally stop crude from gushing into the Gulf of Mexico nearly three months into the crisis. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
This combo made from images taken from video provided by BP PLC shows oil flowing from two of three valves on the new 75-ton cap atop the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico at 17:04 CDT Wednesday, July 14, 2010, left, and the top of the cap at 17:56 CDT on Thursday, July 15, minutes after the flow of oil was choked off. BP vice president Kent Wells said the oil stopped flowing into the water at 14:25 CDT after engineers gradually dialed back the amount of crude escaping through the last of three vents in the cap, an 18-foot-high metal stack of pipes and valves.(AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
The view from an approaching helicopter shows the armada of drillships and other vessels surrounding the site of the blown out BP well in the Gulf of Mexico about 40 miles off the coast of Louisiana. Credit Brett Clanton / Chronicle
Oil gushes from a valve atop the failed blowout preventer (BOP) at the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill site in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, U.S., in an image captured by the Skandi remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) camera at 7:35 a.m. Central Standard Time (CST) on Tuesday, July 13, 2010. BP Plc installed a new cap on its leaking Gulf of Mexico oil well and will start testing today whether this will stop the gusher while work continues on a permanent plug. Source: BP Plc via Bloomberg
EDITOR'S NOTE: EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NO SALES.
GULF OF MEXICO, LA - JULY 27: (EDITORS NOTE: Distortion caused by heat.) Ships assist in clean up and containment near the source of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill July 27, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana. Work continues to put a permanent plug on the well which has leaked an estimated three to five million barrels of oil. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Hairdresser Karen Jackson wears a t-shirt that reads "We've been BPeed on!" on the front of the shirt and "Gulf Oil Disaster 2010-??" on the back Saturday, July 3, 2010, in Orange Beach, Ala. Jackson says she is worried about the effect the spill is having on her community and what will happen if local business continues to falter. "I would hate to have to leave this place. We love it here." She said her business is way off what it should be for the season, "down here we make all of our money in the summer," she says. Her husband's work as an electrician has dried up she says, so he has signed on to work cleanup for BP. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )
A driver rolls down the highway with messages such as "$ave the Gulf Coa$t" and "Tony Hayward C.E. O of B.P. Give us out Live Back" while driving Sunday, June 27, 2010, in Pensacola, Florida. ( Smiley N. Pool / Houston Chronicle )
This still image from a live BP video feed shows a view from a submersible while checking the integrity of the well head on August 3, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. BP prepared Tuesday to plug the worst oil leak in history, although the Gulf of Mexico region will be counting the environmental and economic costs for years, perhaps decades, to come. Already delayed by a week due to Tropical Storm Bonnie, the long-awaited "static kill" was put off again at the last-minute when a leak was discovered on Monday in the cap that has been sealing the runaway well since July 15. US spill chief Thad Allen said the leak had been stopped overnight and that the operation to ram in heavy drilling fluids, known as mud, would commence as soon as "injectivity tests" had given the procedure the all-clear. AFP PHOTO / BP == RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE / NO SALES / NO MARKETING / NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN == (Photo credit should read HO/AFP/Getty Images)(Photo Credit should Read /AFP/Getty Images)
In this image taken from video provided by BP PLC at 12:23 a.m. EDT, Saturday Sept. 4, 2010 Aug. 3, 2010 shows the blowout preventer that failed to stop oil from spewing into the Gulf of Mexico being raised to the surface. The blowout preventer wasn't expected to reach the surface until Saturday, at which point government investigators will take possession of it. (AP Photo/BP PLC) NO SALES
DAUPHIN ISLAND, AL. | JULY 4, 2010 : A cleanup worker, wearing a protective coverall and carrying a small scoop, punctuates an otherwise typical holiday beach scene as patrols the beach looking for tar balls on Independence Day. While exact numbers are elusive, tourist business along the Gulf Coast all reported feeling the sting of lost income from a noticeable dip in tourism this summer following the Deepwater Horizon spill.
GULF OF MEXICO | JUNE 26, 2010 : Streaks of oil are seen on the surface of the water near the site of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The amount of oil spilled, and what happened to the oil remains in debate, but in August, the Department of Energy and United States Geological Survey announced, that it estimated a total of 4.9 million barrels of oil had been released from the BP Deepwater Horizon well.
GRAND ISLE, LA. | JULY 15, 2010 : Oil containment boom floats just off the pier as fishermen cast lines near the bridge leading to the island after sun sets on the first full day of fishing after a ban on sport fishing was lifted. Commercial fishing remained closed, but happy recreational fishermen flocked to the water on a beautiful evening. Most were BP contractors working on the cleanup. One was Bobby Walker of Houma, La., who said he had been coming to the island to fish for over 30 years and praised the great fishing and natural beauty of the island. "But who would have ever thought I would be here all summer working on the oil spill."
HOUSTON — Texas is the first state to confirm a deal to spend settlement money from the Gulf oil spill for long-term coastal conservation, working with a private nonprofit to cut through red tape and buy 80 acres of prime habitat for endangered whooping cranes.
A three-way deal calls for MOEX Offshore 2007 LLC, a partner in the ill-fated offshore well, to give $2 million to the Texas Nature Conservancy, which will use it to buy a tract of coastal land where whooping cranes spend the winter. The nonprofit will then give the property to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to be incorporated into Goose Island State Park. The contract with the landowner has been signed and the handover is tentatively set to be finalized by the end of May.
The Associated Press was given the details of the deal signed Tuesday before it was made public. The arrangement allowed the state agency to bypass cumbersome red tape that often slows down government business and to quickly acquire land that likely would have been sold and subdivided for residential use.
The $2 million is part of a $90 million settlement MOEX made with the federal government and the Gulf states after the 2010 rig explosion that killed 11 people and caused the worst offshore spill in U.S. history. MOEX and several other companies partnered with BP to drill the well and are now being held accountable for the disaster.
All the settlements include setting aside money — $20 million in MOEX’s case — for coastal conservation projects, similar to what was done after Exxon Valdez.
After the 1989 oil spill in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, trustees dedicated $400 million of the $900 million settlement for long-term conservation and restoration, helping preserve more than 600,000 acres of habitat for animals hurt by the disaster, said Stan Senner, who was the science coordinator for the Exxon Valdez trustee council.
“The strategy of protecting habitats for the species actually worked,” said Senner, who is now director of conservation science for the Ocean Conservancy. “They did learn a lesson from the Exxon Valdez. I think there are a number of things they can do in the Gulf region that do provide for long-term conservation benefit and one of those is going to be protecting habitat as is proposed in Texas.”
While all five Gulf states have wish lists of coastal conservation and restoration projects, this is the first project to be announced since the settlement was reached in February.
Until now, most money spent has been either emergency cash funneled toward cleanup or urgent projects mostly paid from a pot of $20 billion BP set aside to pay individual claims in the immediate aftermath of the spill. More recent settlements, including with MOEX, include civil penalties the companies owe under the Clean Water Act and other federal rules.
Texas got about $6.5 million from MOEX and decided that half would go to the office responsible for preserving and overseeing its land and water resources and half would be spent by the parks service.
Texas was able to cut the first deal because it had already pinpointed a few projects that were almost ready to go and working with the Nature Conservancy, a private nonprofit that can spend money and do research without dealing with governmental red tape, allowed it to speed things along.
“There’s very solid agreement on what the priorities are, so we can move quickly on execution,” said Laura Huffman, state director of the Nature Conservancy in Texas and one of the people involved in nailing down the contract.
Ted Hollingsworth, the parks service’s director of land conservation, said it has little of its own money for land acquisition and was looking even before the settlement for money to buy the property north of Corpus Christi. One of the things that made the project urgent, he said, was the fear that it would be sold to a private developer and more habitat would be destroyed.
“From a simple real estate perspective, subdivision residential development would have been a very clear use for that property,” Hollingsworth said. “There was a high probability that the area would have been further compromised and divided if it had remained in the private arena.”
The 80-acre property provides land and water habitat for the whooping cranes, is adjacent to seagrass that helps prevent coastal erosion, oyster beds, marshes, salt flats and important aquatic habitat and includes a mature forest, which Hollingsworth said is important for migratory song birds.
“These birds cross the Gulf of Mexico, they leave the Yucatan, they leave Mexico … they fly several days nonstop,” he said, “and by the time they reach the Texas Gulf they have to have a place to rest and eat and these forests are absolutely critical.”