Rather than the costly process of scrapping offshore rigs once their production days are over, operators are choosing a perhaps more environmentally-friendly option, leaving the rigs in sea to become hosts for new underwater ecosystems.
According to a 2000 report by Les Dauterive from the U.S. Department of the Interior, fish densities were found to be 20 to 50 times higher around oil and gas platforms than in nearby open water.
In the United States, the “Rigs-to-Reefs” program has existed since 1979 and is under the cognizance of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). Energy firms don’t however, completely wipe their hands of all responsibilities once their rig is abandoned into this program. The owner of the abandoned rig donates to a fund which supports annual maintenance and biological surveys.
“In a place like Louisiana, where the state is heavily dependent on tourism, namely fishing, its a win for everyone,” notes Nat Spencer from Meridian Ocean Services. “The fisherman like it because there are more fish, the oil companies reduce disposal costs so it seems to be a win-win.”
There are critics of the program however, those who disagree with leaving a rusting steel platform to slowly disintegrate in the ocean, as well as commercial fishermen who see the reefs as hazards for their fishing nets.
Meridian Ocean Services, a US-based subsea contractor, is currently working in the Gulf of Mexico conducting reef survey work with their Saab Seaeye Falcon DR remotely operated vehicle.