In an ironic twist, scientists, fishermen and conservationists are urging
that hundreds of dormant oil rigs be left standing in the Gulf of Mexico,
arguing that a U.S. federal plan to remove them will endanger coral reefs
While environmentalists might more typically be expected to oppose
artificial intrusions in the marine habitat, those seeking a halt to the
removal want time to study the impact of rig destruction on the Gulf Coast's
economy and to catalog the species, some rare and endangered, that are
clinging to the sunken metal.
"I am not supporting oil rigs. I am supporting fish habitat that just
happens to on petroleum platforms," said Bob Shipp (AFS member, 89),
chairman of the Department of Marine Sciences at the University of South
U.S. Department of Interior officials say the federal "idle iron" policy,
updated in 2010, makes good sense after storms during the 2005 hurricane
season toppled 150 defunct oil rigs, causing considerable damage.
If defunct rigs are toppled by storms, they can break loose and hit other
rigs - potentially causing an oil spill - be swept to land and destroy a
dock or a bridge, knock into and damage natural reefs and cause problems
with ship navigation.
"Cleaning up afterwards is a lot more expensive and inefficient," said David
Smith, spokesman for the department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental
Federal law has long required the removal of drilling infrastructure no
longer in use, but a 2010 agency notice asked operators to detail plans for
650 dormant oil and gas production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and 3,500
Companies have to demonstrate the infrastructure will be put to use
eventually or offer a plan to move ahead with decommissioning, the agency
The structures have attracted as many as 3 acres (1.2 hectares) of coral
habitat per rig, and some 30,000 fish live off of each reef, according to
"They developed into an oasis for reef fishes," said Shipp, a member of the
Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Gus Rassam, PhD, Executive Director, AFS
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