From Business Insider Weekend: In unlikely turn, US conservationists lobby to save Gulf oil rigs
BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA -- In an ironic twist, scientists, fishermen
and conservationists are urging that hundreds of dormant oil rigs be
left standing in the Gulf of Mexico, arguing that a US federal plan to
remove them will endanger coral reefs and fish.
While environmentalists might more typically be expected to oppose
artificial intrusions in the marine habitat, those seeking a halt to the
removal want time to study the impact of rig destruction on the Gulf
Coast’s economy and to catalog the species, some rare and endangered,
that are clinging to the sunken metal.
“I am not supporting oil rigs. I am supporting fish habitat that just
happens to on petroleum platforms,” said Bob Shipp, chairman of the
Department of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama.
US Department of Interior officials say the federal “idle iron” policy,
updated in 2010, makes good sense after storms during the 2005 hurricane
season toppled 150 defunct oil rigs, causing considerable damage.
If defunct rigs are toppled by storms, they can break loose and hit
other rigs -- potentially causing an oil spill -- be swept to land and
destroy a dock or a bridge, knock into and damage natural reefs and
cause problems with ship navigation.
“Cleaning up afterwards is a lot more expensive and inefficient,” said
David Smith, spokesman for the department’s Bureau of Safety and
Federal law has long required the removal of drilling infrastructure no
longer in use, but a 2010 agency notice asked operators to detail plans
for 650 dormant oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico
and 3,500 inactive wells.
Companies have to demonstrate the infrastructure will be put to use
eventually or offer a plan to move ahead with decommissioning, the
The structures have attracted as many as 1.2 hectares of coral habitat
per rig, and some 30,000 fish live off of each reef, according to Mr.
“They developed into an oasis for reef fishes,” said Mr. Shipp, a member of the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Mr. Shipp said the updated “idle iron” policy is driving the destruction
of old rigs at the rate of three per week, prompting new concerns about
the fate of the wildlife and the thousands of jobs that depend on the
Diving, sports fishing, restaurants, charter boats and hotels all thrive
on the Gulf of Mexico’s $1-billion fishing industry, according to US
Representative Steven Palazzo of Mississippi.
If the rig dismantling continues, Mr. Shipp fears as much as a 50%
decline in fishery production, which he worries would further devastate
an area still recovering from the BP oil spill in 2010. “I have never
seen rigs come down this fast in 30 years of study,” he said.
The Interior Department disputed claims that there has been a rapid rise
in rig removals since 2010, though the department could not provide
As of late August, some 227 platforms were scheduled to be taken down in
the Gulf of Mexico through the end of 2013, with 116 slated for
disposal, 35 for reef conversion and 76 still awaiting decommissioning
plans, the department said. About 3,000 platforms were in the Gulf as of
Still, members of the Coastal Conservation Association have described
sailing out to favorite fishing holes only to find dead zones after rig
removal, according to Ted Venker, the group’s conservation director.
Trade groups representing oil rig operators have not taken an active
stance on the issue. The Independent Petroleum Association of America
said it understands environmental concerns but the potential liabilities
posed by idle rigs must also be considered.
Republican congressman Palazzo has sponsored a “Rigs to Reefs” bill in
the House of Representatives that calls for a moratorium on rig
destruction until studies can show the impact on fishing and the
Under the legislation, 50% of the removal cost would be put back into
maintenance of the structures, such as keeping foghorns and night lights
working. -- Reuters