DECOM WORLD: Group launches campaign to scrap Rigs to Reefs programs in Gulf of Mexico

By Rod Sweet on Aug 6, 2014

Operators hoping to cut decommissioning costs by reefing rigs in the Gulf of Mexico may have a fight on their hands now that a campaign has been launched by a diverse group including shrimp fishermen and conservationists to have the Rigs to Reefs program scrapped.

Twenty-three individuals, among them university professors and people representing conservation groups, fishermen and tribal organizations, are signatories to a 23 July letter to US Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her department to require operators to remove rigs instead of converting them to reefs.

They were joined on 30 July by Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, who told New Orleans’ Times-Picayune newspaper that the oil industry should return the Gulf sea floor to “trawlable bottoms”.

The campaign coincides with the publication last month of a new book entitled “Bring Back the Gulf”. Its authors, Richard Charter, senior fellow of the Ocean Foundation, and DeeVon Quirolo, a marine conservation consultant based in Florida, argue that there is no scientific consensus that reefed platforms and jackets contribute to maintaining fish stocks “or otherwise achieve overarching fisheries management goals”.

“Instead,” they write, “these artificial underwater structures aggregate fish, thereby contributing to over-fishing. It also is apparent that they fail to equal or rival natural coral reefs in biological diversity.”

The campaign will put pressure on BSEE, which last July expanded the scope for reefing rigs by removing the requirement for a five-mile buffer zone between designated reefing areas in the Gulf and by easing certain other restrictions on reefing rigs in place.

Around 450 platforms in the Gulf have been converted to reefs through state reefing programs since 1985. More than 300 of these are in Louisiana waters. Some environmental groups have contended that artificial reefs just attract more fish without promoting balanced habitats, thereby doing more harm than good.

The 23 July letter, signed also by authors Charter and Quirolo, urges Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to effect “strong and consistent implementation of the Department of Interior’s Idle Iron policy requiring full decommissioning of spent oil and gas structures at the end of their useful economic life.”

The letter adds: “The permanent seabed placement of obsolete oil and gas extraction infrastructure invites more ecosystem damage rather than restoring it as originally envisioned.”

The Louisiana Shrimp Association’s Clint Guidry also called for the complete removal of platforms, saying it would “help all users who have to navigate the Gulf”. Shrimpers have opposed artificial reefs because they can tangle their nets.

Signing the 23 July letter to Sally Jewell were:

  • Richard Charter, Senior Fellow, The Ocean Foundation, Washington DC
  • DeeVon Quirolo, Marine Conservation Consultant, Brooksville, Florida
  • Athan Manuel, Director, Lands Protection Program Sierra Club, Washington DC
  • Robert W. Hastings, Chair, Alabama Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director, Gulf Restoration Network, New Orleans
  • Miyoko Sakashita, Oceans Director, Center for Biological Diversity, San Francisco
  • John Hocevar, Oceans Campaign Director, Greenpeace USA
  • Gary Appleson, Policy Coordinator, Sea Turtle Conservancy, Gainesville, Florida
  • Meredith Dowling, Gulf Program Director, Southwings Gulf Office
  • George Barisich, President, United Commercial Fishermen’s Association, Louisiana
  • John W. Day, Jr., Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences and Coastal Ecology Institute, School of the Coast & Environment Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
  • Len Bahr, Ph.D. Homer Hitt Alumni Center, New Orleans
  • John McManus, Professor, Department of Marine Biology and Ecology, University of Miami
  • Stephen Bradberry, Executive Director, Alliance Institute, New Orleans
  • Michael Tritico, President, RESTORE Trust, Louisiana
  • Robert G. Bea, Professor Emeritus, Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, University of California Berkeley
  • Luiz Rodrigues, Executive Director, Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach
  • Colette Pichon Battle, Director/Attorney, Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, Slidell, Louisiana
  • Dede Shelton, Executive Director, Hands Across the Sand, Meridian, Idaho
  • Michael Stocker, Director, Ocean Conservation Research, Lagunitas, California
  • Kathi Koontz, Ocean Consultant, Berkeley, CA
  • Delice Calcote, Executive Director, Alaska Inter-Tribal Council, Anchorage

The letter to Sally Jewell and the book, “Bring Back the Gulf”, can be downloaded here.

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