By Velda Addison, Hart Energy

Disasters typically present opportunities to learn and improve future operations. And the Deepwater Horizon tragedy has presented another such opportunity.

The latest example could bring millions to the University of Houston (UH) and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. A day before Rick Perry turned over the Texas governor’s seat to Greg Abbott, the outgoing Texas governor announced in a news release that $4 million of the funds given to Texas by BP following the 2010 deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will go to the two universities. The funds will be used to “provide research, training and education for the advancement of offshore energy exploration, help protect the environment and develop preventive measures against oil spills.”

In the release, Perry said, “American energy security depends on a constant study of energy exploration processes to ensure companies are operating safely and efficiently. 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.”

The funding announcements came after the RESTORE (Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States) Act made way for the creation of the Subsea Systems Institute, which will be led by the University of Houston. In addition, the state selected the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies at Texas A&M’s Corpus Christi campus to lead the RESTORE Research Centers of Excellence.

UH said the Subsea Systems Institute will work with the Johnson Space Center, Rice University, Texas Southern University, Houston Community College and Lone Star College. “It will serve as a liaison for industry and government regulators, testing and validating equipment, helping standard-setting institutions with neutral third-party knowledge and other best practices, developing new materials and science-based policies, as well as overseeing workforce training,” according to UH.

This is good news for not only the universities but also the industry, which continues to look for not only safer and more efficient ways to operate but also qualified workers to step in when older workers retire. UH said it plans to focus on training future subsea engineers to work at depths and temperatures previously unexplored.

As stated in a news release, partners in the center led by Harte include the:

  • Center for Translational Environmental Health Research, a partnership between Texas A&M University, the Texas A&M Health Science Center, Texas A&M AgriLife Research, Baylor College of Medicine and UH;
  • Marine biology, science and engineering departments at Texas A&M University Galveston;
  • Geochemical and Environmental Research Group at Texas A&M University;
  • Biological and environmental sciences departments at the University of Texas-Brownsville (RGV);
  • Sealy Center for Environmental Health and Medicine at the University of Texas Medical Branch;
  • Meadows Center for Water and Environment at Texas State University;
  • Center for U.S. and Mexican Law at UH; and
  • Gulf of Mexico Coastal Ocean Observing System Regional Association.

While the universities are grateful for the grant, total funding will depend on civil penalties levied in court, UH cautioned. That process is still unfolding. Let’s hope that in the end the universities will be able to secure the millions of dollars expected for this needed work.

Contact the author, Velda Addison, at