If an oil rig is done producing oil, should the oil company return the ecosystem to its natural state by removing the rig? What if the 40 year old rig’s underwater structure is covered with thriving marine life?
These questions are being debated around the Eureka Oil Platform off the coast of Long Beach, California. Concerns over a history of catastrophic oil spills are being met with recent evidence that the rigs are already booming ecosystems. From The New York Times:
Researching the impact of sunken shipping containers and Deepwater Horizon oil spill – Where did the oil go?
“…over the last decade or so, divers and scientists have discovered that the rigs harbor an unexpected bounty of life. Just beneath the surface at the Eureka rig, sea lions prowl in the crystal clear waters; half a dozen species of rockfish and bright orange Garibaldi swim in the swift currents; and florid carpets of invertebrates and crustaceans cling to the rig’s pylons…
The process of removing a rig and cleaning the site, known as decommissioning, is complicated and expensive, and includes plugging and cementing wells to make them safe. A total decommissioning means the removal of the entire structure. In a typical rigs-to-reefs effort, only the top portion of the rig is removed, usually to a depth of about 80 feet, so that they don’t pose any risk to ship hulls. The rest of the rig remains in place as a haven for sea life and for recreational diving or fishing.