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Years Later, Perry Finally Spends BP Spill Gift

In one of his last acts as governor, Gov. Rick Perry gave $4 million to two Texas university consortiums to research offshore energy exploration, oil spill prevention and coastline protection.

By Jim Malewitz, The Texas Tribune, and Neena Satija, The Texas Tribune and Reveal
The Deepwater Horizon fire in 2010.

Gov. Rick Perry on Monday ensured that BP will not be able to take back a $5 million grant that sat unused – and seemingly forgotten – for years after the company gave it to Texas following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.

In one of his last acts as governor, Perry announced he was sending $4 million to two Texas university consortiums that will research offshore energy exploration, oil spill prevention and coastal restoration. 

"American energy security depends on a constant study of energy exploration processes to ensure companies are operating safely and efficiently," Perry said in a statement. "This funding will support research at Texas universities that will look at both the lessons of the past and challenges of the future to make energy exploration in our nation more effective."

Perry’s move closes the book on a story that highlighted Texas’ slow, disjointed effort to use millions of dollars it received following BP's infamous oil spill.

BP gave Texas the money in September 2010 – five months after its rig spewed millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. For four years, the money sat in a state bank account, accruing more than $20,000 in interest. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality demanded $1 million of it in December 2012 to cover administrative help in dealing with oil spill recovery funds, and a few months ago launched a website related to recovery efforts. 

Few of the state and local officials who work on such projects were aware of the grant until a legislative hearing in May 2014. Lawmakers at that hearing complained, saying the money should have been given to agencies with the expertise to spend it.

The inaction also frustrated BP. In November 2013, the company asked Texas to return the money — a request Perry’s office would later “respectfully” deny, according to correspondence The Texas Tribune obtained through an open records request.

The $5 million grant represented a tiny fraction of the money available to Texas following the Deepwater Horizon spill. Hundreds of millions of dollars more have come to the state in the form of criminal penalties paid by BP, and the amount of civil penalties the company owes is still in dispute.  

Texas has only just begun to spend the money, and critics say it has lagged far behind other Gulf states in using its recovery dollars. The state has argued that it was less affected than its neighbors, and that officials are painstakingly making sure the money will be put to good use: Texas announced a major conservation land purchase of coastal prairie using $34.5 million BP-provided dollars last August. 

BP's 2010 gift will support two “Centers of Excellence” — consortiums whose creation the TCEQ announced last week. The University of Houston will lead one, which "will study offshore energy development, including research and technology to improve the sustainable and safe development of energy resources in the Gulf of Mexico," the agency said. 

Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi will lead the other consortium, which has similar goals, including research related to "sustainability, restoration and protection of the coast and deltas."

Disclosure: The University of Houston and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi are sponsors of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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