There are some 3,800 fixed platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, many of them past their useful lives. By law, operators are required to remove any structures at the end of the productive life of a lease. But as it turns out, to marine flora and fauna, a platform is an artificial reef. Divers and sport fishermen well know the richness and diversity of marine life around old platforms.
As an article in yesterday’s New York Times points out, in many cases platform removal is more damaging to marine life than simply leaving in place. They look in particular at a platform designated High Island 389-A, operated by W&T Offshore. What makes it unusual is that it is located near the Flower Garden Banks, our northernmost living coral reefs. They lie 115 miles southeast of Galveston, surrounded by water nearly 500 feet deep near the edge of the continental shelf. The reefs extend up into the light zone, in less than 50 feet of water at the shallowest point.
After all the wells are plugged, W&T proposes to remove the deck and cut the standing “jacket” structure of the platform at a depth of 85 feet, thereby minimizing impact on the fish, corals and other organisms.
The federal government estimates that the blasts needed to remove one platform kill 800 fish, although others who have observed the process put the number in the thousands. Much of the marine life on or around the structure dies, either from the explosions to separate the platform from its supports or when it is toppled or towed to shore and recycled as scrap metal.
Here is an interesting video that shows the diversity of marine life hosted by a typical platform. Without a structure to support growth, this patch of the Gulf would be relatively barren, over a relatively featureless flat ocean bottom.
In the interest of full disclosure, my employer is considering a “Rigs to Reefs” abandonment of a platform. If approved, the jacket portion of the structure will be toppled on bottom in a specified location.
Remember, the Gulf of Mexico habitat needs all the help it can get. Every summer brings a “Dead Zone“, starved of oxygen due to an excess of phosphates and nitrates in the Mississippi River. So the corn ethanol mandates lead to juiced up ag practices in the Midwest, which kill fish in the Gulf, which thrive under the oil platforms. Who’d’a thunk it?
Cross-posted at Maley’s Energy Blog.