Rigs to Reef
“Rigs-to-Reefs” policy allows some platforms to be converted to artificial reefs.
“Rigs-to-Reefs” is a term used for a policy allowing obsolete, nonproductive offshore oil and gas platforms to be converted as artificial reefs to support marine habitat.
BSEE cooperates with stakeholders, coastal states, and the offshore industry to benefit marine life on and around oil and natural gas platforms.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is not involved in any programs to create artificial reefs. BSEE is responsible for insuring that when an operator is no longer producing oil or gas from a well, the well is correctly decommissioned, which entails permanently sealing the well to protect the environment and removing all structures which could affect the environment and impede navigation or other uses of the area. These obligations are part of the original lease terms.
Many states and several federal agencies are involved with the Artificial Reef Plan which permit operators to apply to add a platform structure to the Artificial Reef, often requiring the operators to move the abandoned structure to an designated reefing area before it is submerged as an artificial reef. Operators are still responsible for returning the environment where the platform was located to the condition agreed upon in their contract with the U.S. government.
BSEE adopted a national “Rigs-to-Reefs policy” that supports the reuse of oil and gas structures for limited offshore artificial reef development if approved by the appropriate agencies. Operators with platforms which are non-productive can apply to the Army Corps of Engineers and the appropriate states, and if approved, may request BSEE approval to dispose of their platform within the guidelines set forth by the appropriate organizations.
The Louisiana Artificial Reef Program was established in 1986 to take advantage of obsolete oil and gas platforms which were recognized as providing habitat important to many of Louisiana’s coastal fishes. Federal law and international treaty require these platforms to be removed one year after production ceases. The removal of these platforms results in a loss of reef habitat.
Since the program’s inception in 1986, 67 oil and gas related companies have participated in the program and donated primarily the jackets of oil and gas structures. In addition to the material, companies also donate one half their realized savings over a traditional onshore removal into Louisiana’s Artificial Reef Trust Fund.
Louisiana’s offshore oil and gas industry began in 1947 when the first well was drilled out of sight of land south of Terrebonne parish. Over 7,000 offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed in the Gulf of Mexico which have supplied natural gas and oil to the United States. In addition to meeting the world’s energy needs, these structures also form one of the world’s most extensive de-facto artificial reef systems. However, Federal regulations require that these structures be removed within one year after the lease is terminated. Since 1973, 3,700 of these platforms have been decommissioned. Disposal of obsolete offshore oil and gas structures is not only a net financial liability for private industry but can be a public loss of productive marine habitat.
The Louisiana Fishing Enhancement Act was signed into law in 1986, creating the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program. This program was designed to take advantage of fishing opportunities provided by these obsolete platforms. Since the program’s inception, 69 offshore reefs utilizing the jackets of 301 obsolete platforms, have been created off Louisiana’s coast. Gulfwide, over 400 obsolete platforms have been converted into permanent artificial reefs. The use of obsolete oil and gas platforms in Louisiana has proved to be highly successful. Their large numbers, design, longevity and stability have provided a number of advantages over the use of traditional artificial reef materials. The participating companies also save money by converting the structure into a reef rather than abandoning it onshore and are required to donate a portion of the savings to operate the state program. One disadvantage, however, is that their large size restricts the distance to shore where these platforms can be sited. To achieve the minimum clearance of 85 ft as required by the Coast Guard regulations, the platforms must be placed in waters in excess of 100 ft. Waters compatible with reef development are generally found between 30 and 70 miles off Louisiana’s gently sloping continental shelf, making them accessible to anglers with offshore vessels. Funds generated by the program can be used to develop reefs closer to shore using alternative low profile materials.