Offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico kicked off in the 1940s, with 1947 marking the construction of “the first offshore well that couldn’t be seen from land.” From those early days, the presence of oil rigs in the Gulf has blossomed, with there presently being around 4,000 active platforms in the region. Following in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill (the BP oil spill), says the Herald-Tribune, “the federal government ordered that oil rigs must be plugged and taken out within five years of going idle. The move was meant to prevent oil seepage and increase navigational safety, particularly after hurricanes.”
Rather than being left to rot or become a source of dangerous debris in the wake of a passing hurricane, the rigs are to be pulled from the sea. The oil companies, say the Herald-Tribune, are okay with the plan, as it could cut down on future maintenance costs or liability issues. Fighting this plan, however, are the fishermen who work in the Gulf and the environmentalists who strive to protect it.
The issue at hand is that, if the rigs are pulled from the sea floor, the artificial reef ecosystem that has developed since the platforms were first installed will be disrupted. Any sort of permanent debris scattered in the sea floor, whether boulder, beam or sunken aircraft carrier, will attract algae, barnacles, corrals and fish. In some places, such refuse is deliberately placed along the sea floor to spur such ecosystems into being.
The Herald-Tribune explains:
Fishermen and environmental groups are pushing the National Marine Fisheries Service to designate oil rigs and other artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico as essential fish habitat — a label that would require oil companies to get approval from the fisheries service before removing them.
It’s not clear that this effort will hold any weight, but it’s ironic to see that the players are seemingly switching sides on the presence of oil rigs in the Gulf.
More from Smithsonian.com:
R.I.P., Mighty O: A fabled aircraft carrier sunk deliberately off the coast of Florida is the world’s largest artificial reef
As BP Set to Plead Guilty for 2010 Spill, Some Good News From Gulf Wildlife