From Disused Oil Rigs to Living Reefs

Disused oil rigs have become home to millions of ocean creatures in the Gulf of Mexico, but hundreds of habitats could soon be wiped out under US rules. In this breathtaking photo feature we chart the death of an oil rig and the birth of vibrant new reefs, which environmental campaigners are fighting to save.

A sea of iron rigs sit idly in the Gulf of Mexico. With not a vessel floating by or an oil worker in sight, these platforms appear to be abandoned, but they are not alone.

Beneath the surface, schools of rockfish, garibaldi and angel fish swim between the risers that are themselves encrusted with coral, sponge, algae, sea urchins, crabs and snails. Like castles in an aquarium, disused platforms are sprawling with underwater residents. But, these creatures shouldn’t make themselves too comfortable, for their habitats may soon be demolished.

Of the 650 idle relics in the Gulf of Mexico, around 158 are set to be removed in 2012, a process which will almost certainly wipe out a huge proportion of the marine population. Oil and gas companies have the option to avoid this situation by partially removing or towing their rigs in place under artificial reefs programmes offered across all coastal US areas.

So why are so many of these firms, and indeed policy makers, choosing to ignore this lifeline?

Thirty years after it was built and just months after it was abandoned, the High Island 389-A rig will be removed under plans put forward by the US Department of Interior. The department cites concerns about the potential for spills from this well, located within the 56-square mile Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

Critics may find it ironic then that this same department, led by Ken Salazar, wants to blast the High Island structure with explosives, killing thousands of fish and damaging delicate seafloor ecologies in the process.

According to not-for-profit corporation EcoRigs, the Gulf of Mexico will lose a third of its 3,600 offshore oil and gas platforms in the next five years, which will destroy an estimated 1,875 acres of coral reef habitat and seven billion invertebrates. But, several actions are underway to ensure that removal is just an option and that artificial reefing will become a more popular course of action.

Courtesy of www.offshore-technology.com

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