A Houston lawyer is banking on big business helping protect the Texas coast

Mother Nature is one of the most powerful allies in helping reduce and store carbon-dioxide emissions.

Our coastal marshlands play an important role in that process but are threatened by erosion and sea-level rise.

A Houston environmental attorney says he’s figured out a way to protect these fragile areas of the state while making it financially viable for big businesses to support the effort.

“The economy is headed here and it’s a new economy for agriculture in Texas, for coastal landowners,” said attorney Jim Blackburn. “It’s part of the new carbon economy, as well as protecting the Texas coast.”

Blackburn’s goal is to create a thousand miles of living shoreline stretching from Orange County to Cameron County. He believes energy industry leaders can help with this effort in exchange for carbon credits.

A living coastline (KPRC)

“We want to give companies the opportunity to help reduce their carbon footprint, if you will, by shopping a mile, two miles, 10 miles of this living edge,” Blackburn said.


The project aims to protect the Texas coast from erosion and sea-level rise, which is eating up important marshlands.

“Marshes are key to Texas coast fisheries. Shrimp, blue crabs, flounder all use the marsh as a nursery,” Blackburn said. “Each acre of marsh contains about 400 tons of carbon that is sequestered in the soil.”

Blackburn said that if marshlands are destroyed, all the carbon in the soil is returned to the atmosphere.

“We’re going to build oyster reefs to protect wetlands and keep carbon dioxide out of the process,” Blackburn said.

Blackburn said Valero Energy Corp. is funding the study needed to create a system where companies can buy carbon credits that help fund the construction of this living shoreline. Blackburn created a non-profit company called B-Carbon, which issued the credits.

“Which, they’ll basically put in their annual reports, those kinds of things, how they’re reducing their carbon footprint,” Blackburn said.


For a living shoreline, the idea is to collect rocks or bricks near the shoreline and then plant the rocks with oyster spat. Oyster reefs then grow and anchor the structures to the sea-bed, protecting the shore from being eroded by wind, waves and rising sea levels.

“We as people really enjoy maintaining coastal fisheries, maintaining coastal birds, protecting all those things,” said Lalis Mason with Scenic Galveston, Inc. and the Texas Coastal Exchange.

Mason has already spearheaded a similar project to protect Virginia Point, which is just off the Galveston Causeway.

“Its first and foremost function was to protect this coastal prairie peninsula,” Mason said.

Mason, along with an army of volunteers, helped build rock cliffs to protect the shoreline from erosion. Marsh-grass was then planted, which helps anchor the sediment and prevents the carbon stored in the soil from being released.


Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)
Project to protect Virginia Point (KPRC)

“It develops biomass below ground, it develops a large root mass,” Mason said. “Biomass in soil is carbon. It’s soil carbon, that’s what it is.”

The whole area is thriving with fish, birds and rapidly thickening lines of marsh grass.

“We try and develop as we look at the living shoreline, a solution that mimics the natural system,” said Chris Levitz, AECOM’s Gulf Coast manager.

Levitz helped design the coastal system now protecting Virginia Point. He and Mason are working with Blackburn to design various prototypes that will create one-thousand miles of living shoreline.

“Do (Virginia Point), but do it on a more repeatable, smaller scale,” Levitz said.

Another recording of the edge

Blackburn hopes the scheme will serve as a model for a new type of economy and industry, which will help demonstrate a commitment to reducing carbon footprints by conserving or restoring areas of natural carbon filtration in exchange for carbon credits.


“This is all happening outside of government regulation,” Blackburn said. “In the past, we’ve seen market and environmental types of disruption. Today, we’ll see them working together and moving together.”

Blackburn stated that the design phase of the project will be completed by the end of this year and expressed his belief that the construction will begin on the coastal part with the goal of completing the entire project in the next five to six years.

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