E&E: GULF OF MEXICO: Bring Back the Gulf Coalition decries Interior ‘rigs to reef’ program, demands cleanup


Jessica Estepa, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, July 31, 2014
A group of environmentalists, scientists and fishermen is calling on the Interior Department for “strong and consistent implementation” of its idle iron policy in order to restore the Gulf of Mexico.
Under the policy, companies are required to dismantle and dispose of oil and gas infrastructure that is no longer being used.
But what has become the norm, the group contends in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, is that oil and gas companies are using Interior’s “rigs to reefs” program to avoid the costs of decommissioning oil platforms in the Gulf under the guise of creating aquatic habitat.
“The permanent seabed placement of obsolete oil and gas extraction infrastructure invites more ecosystem damage rather than restoring it as originally envisioned,” they wrote in the letter sent last week. “The proposed additional discard of uncounted tons of deteriorating scrap metal into sensitive Gulf habitats will result in significant cumulative environmental degradation.”
To put it more simply, it will turn the Gulf into a “junkyard,” said Richard Charter, a senior fellow at the Ocean Foundation. He, along with marine consultant DeeVon Quirolo, yesterday released a report, “Bring Back the Gulf,” that dives further into the issue.
The pair calls on Interior to review the rigs to reefs program and to include a “broad” range of stakeholders as the discussion moves forward.
Charter said he believes that the Gulf is reaching a “critical mass” of artificial infrastructure. The future of the region will lie with the decisions that the federal government makes in the coming years.
“Americans have every right to expect companies to keep their promise,” he said.
An Interior spokeswoman said the department has received the letter and is reviewing the request.
The letter and report come as Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management reviews rules on decommissioning rigs. Earlier this year, Tommy Beaudreau, Jewell’s chief of staff and former head of the agency, said the branch would issue an advanced notice on a proposed rulemaking.
The review concerns financial assurances regarding decommissioning, a spokesman with the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said today. It is meant to address concerns about how oil and gas companies pay for decommissioning rigs and could potentially provide some funds for the task.
Twitter: @jmestepa | Email: jestepa@eenews.net
Special thanks to Aileo Weinmann of Resource Media.
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