Money paid by BP and Transocean to settle criminal penalties arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has helped Texas close the largest conservation land purchase in the state’s history: Just over 17,000 acres of undisturbed coastal prairie in Calhoun County for $50 million.
The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation (the non-profit fundraising arm of the state’s parks department) will raise the balance of the funds — about $15 million after the oil spill funds are applied. The foundation would initially be a joint owner of the land, alongside other non-profit conservation organizations; eventually, the plan is for the land to be donated to the department itself.
Conservationists and environmental advocates hailed the purchase as a significant move to protect the state’s coast, which experts estimate is losing hundreds of acres of rural land each day. Conserving rural lands, they said, is crucial not only for preserving open spaces in Texas, but also as a way to protect water resources. Along the coast, keeping land undeveloped can serve as a “natural buffer” against sea-level rise and storm surges — often a much cheaper way to ensure hurricane protection than costly infrastructure like seawalls.