Under legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senators Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), coral reef growth and other marine habitats surrounding offshore energy rigs are among the details that must be assessed before the Interior Department forces removal of nonproducing platforms from the Gulf of Mexico.
The Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act (S.1555) would allow some nonproducing offshore oil and gas platforms to remain in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. waters if they have become habitats for coral populations and other critical marine life. Current Interior Department policy requires defunct rigs to be decommissioned and removed within five years.
"It seems counterproductive to have a blanket policy that requires the removal of all structures even if they are fostering healthy coral and fish ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico," Cochran said. "This legislation allows nonproductive platforms to be assessed for potential marine life benefits before they are summarily removed. I think this is a balanced approach."
"Coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico help promote diversity of species and are essential for our fishery resources," said Wicker. "Unused oil and gas rigs create a suitable environment for reef growth. In addition to job creation, this is another benefit of energy production in the Gulf."
The Rigs to Reefs legislation would prohibit the removal of nonproducing offshore oil and gas platforms before they are assessed to determine if coral populations or other protected species are in the platform's vicinity. The reviews must also identify any recreational or commercial species in the area. Decommissioning would be suspended if it is determined that platform removal would harm such ecosystems.
The bill would also exempt certain rig removal deadlines for rig lessees that commit to place the platform in an artificial reef program under that National Fishing Enhancement Act of 1984. The Rigs to Reefs legislation also creates a Reef Maintenance Fund that would be sustained by payments from lessees that enroll in an artificial reef program and commit to maintaining an anode system on the remaining rig structure.
S.1555 was authored by Senator David Vitter (R-La.) and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A companion measure, HR.3429, has been introduced by Representative Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.). That bill is cosponsored by Representatives Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.).