Rigs to Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico

Rigs to Reefs in the Gulf of Mexico

Offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico serve as valuable marine habitat, supporting economically important recreational fishing in the Gulf region. Decommissioned oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico are generally regarded as the most productive artificial reefs in the world.

In addition to creating habitat, the platforms also create fishing opportunities for anglers, which support businesses dependent on recreational fishing. Many of these businesses saw a significant drop in income as a result of the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster and the resultant media outcry. Prior to the oil spill, recreational fishing contributed $41 billion in economic output in the Gulf Coast region annually and supported more than 300,000 jobs. Removing these idle structures will decrease sportfishing opportunity and further harm those businesses and jobs that are dependent on sportfishing.

Our Position

The American Sportfishing Association (ASA) supports and encourages the use of obsolete oil and gas structures as artificial reefs. They create essential habitat for diverse and abundant fish populations, and in turn, support vigorous coastal economies reliant upon those aquatic resources. The specific priorities identified by ASA to better facilitate the transfer of obsolete oil platforms into artificial reef programs include :

  • better understanding of best reefing practices to maximize fish abundance;
  • improving consultation and coordination among federal agencies, state agencies and industry;
  • establishing more reef planning areas closer to shore; and
  • limiting the use of explosives during decommissioning.

Issue Background

Since 2006, removal of platforms has exceeded installations. In September 2010, the U.S. Department of the Interior issued guidance for decommissioning and removing non-producing offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico by 2015. For example, in 2010, 161 were removed while only 23 platforms were installed, and these installations were typically further from shore and therefore less accessible to anglers. Only approximately 10 percent of all eligible platforms in the Gulf of Mexico have been converted into artificial reefs, while the rest have been removed.

In the face of increasing attention on the removal of these important fish structures, in June, 2013, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) released an amended “Rigs to Reefs” policy that will make it easier to turn inactive platforms into new artificial reefs.

The new policy:

  • Supports and encourages the use of obsolete oil and gas structures as artificial reefs;
  • Provides greater opportunities for reefing by reducing the five-mile buffer zone between reefing areas to two miles;
  • Allows for reefing in place when appropriate in Special Artificial Reef Sites;
  • Provides for extensions to regulatory decommissioning deadlines for companies actively pursuing a “Rigs to Reefs” proposal.

In Louisiana from 2009 to 2011, $44.6 million intended for the “Rigs to Reefs” program was funneled towards other unrelated purposes. Amendment 8, a constitutional amendment that passed in the November 2014 elections by a 14-point margin, will prohibit this from happening again by creating the Artificial Reef Development Fund. The funds would be used to enhance inshore fisheries habitat and ensure “Rigs to Reefs” continues to maintain idle oil rigs in the Gulf that foster diverse populations of reef fish with no additional cost to taxpayers.