The lowdown on Rig-to-Reefs programs in North America

CALIFORNIA — Manmade structures like piers tend to attract a fair share of sea life such as barnacles – so why would oilrigs be any different?

The relationship between ocean dwellers and oilrigs is not a new phenomenon, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).

“Over the years, studies have documented a connection among fish and other marine life, fishing, and the oil and gas structures in the marine environment. Shortly after a platform is installed, it becomes habitat to marine life and communities begin to grow. Fishermen, divers, and coastal states have been concerned with the removal of these structures heavily-populated with marine life. BSEE began to work with interested parties and coastal states to address these concerns, creating Rigs to Reefs,” states the BSEE’s website.

As a way to develop artificial reefs about the increased desire for offshore fishing activity at oil and gas platforms, the U.S. Congress signed the National Fishing Enhancement Act into law in 1984. BSEE saw an opportunity for resolution in the Rigs to Reefs program, which began in 1985. Since its introduction, the Rigs to Reefs program saw success in the Gulf of Mexico, where 532 platforms were transformed into reefs to date.

Some might wonder if potentially adding these structures could be harmful to the environment, but according to BSEE not all platforms can be reefed and there are fairly strict standards including the size, stability, durability and cleanliness to take into account.

Benefits of this plan include: repurposing an obsolete structure otherwise too costly to remove; enriches and attracts marine life; and, provides recreational and commercial divers and fishermen with a diverse population of fish and other ocean species. Not to mention, the structures provide coverage, food and other necessities to the marine life.

If scientists are recommending this method of preserving oilrigs as homes for the ocean’s ecosystem and the program has shown it can be beneficial, then why is the state of California hesitating when it comes to passing the bill?

According to an article published by The Log in April 2017, elements of a Rigs to Reefs policy “proved to be unworkable” and oil companies were not submitting applications to the program.

Though the bills on turning oil platforms into artificial reef structures haven’t gone far in California, perhaps, with some tweaks, the program could prove to be a viable and cost-effective solution to enhancing the marine ecosystem off California’s coasts.

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