Oil Is Dying, But What About Rig Reefs?

This isn’t a political or personal statement, it’s just a trend. Statistically, oil is on the way out. With the largest powers on Earth leading a trend of switching to renewables, eco-friendly transport, and other things that don’t require the old black gold, we’re slowly shifting into an era where people no longer need to use petrol or the oil from which it comes.

A rig sits lonely at sea. Photo: Robsphotos via CC BY-SA 4.0

But what about the rigs?

You can go to just about any island in Southeast Asia and see rigs burning in the distance. Those that are active and those that are now defunct have turned into magnificent habitats for fish. As oil is on the way out a debate is emerging. “Do we leave these rigs or do we remove them?”

There are valid points on either side. The against team notes that it’s the job of the oil companies to remove their garbage from the ocean. Many of them environmental groups, they also note that there’s a chance that a rig which is no longer pumping oil can rupture and lead to a massive leak which destroys its surrounding environment.

On the “pro” side of the argument is that these kinds of accidents are rare. Also, as noted above, the lower sections of these rigs have become a safe haven for fish as accidental artificial reefs. Removing them, says the pro-side, would eliminate these longstanding habitats and possibly lead to the death of the wildlife that now relies on them for food, shelter, and life itself.

Groupers hiding out. Photo: Gerald E. Carroll via CC BY-SA 3.0

A Breeding Ground

Platforms have also proven to be a gathering point for breeding fish. Since their installation, they’ve provided a net increase in fish populations in their areas. This is something that people who enjoy fishing took note of early on, and many big catches are recorded near the rigs each year. In fact, in Southern California, oil rig breeding populations outproduce their natural reef neighbors 27-times over.

“Given the hundreds of thousands of fishes that sometimes live around these platforms, these results were not a complete surprise,” says Milton Love, research biologist at UC Santa Barbara.

Many threatened larger fish, such as the goliath grouper, have found refuge around these rigs. This is especially important because this species has proven hard to breed in captivity. In fact, every attempt was unsuccessful until 2015.

Birds lie dead after an oil spill. Photo: Exxon

The Obvious Downside

In the United States alone, 4.9 million liters of petroleum are spilled into the waters every year. A major spill, according to the U.S. government, can double that number easily.

With all of this oil leeching into our waterways through rigs, pipes, and vessels carrying oil, one can easily start to wonder if it’s worth it to keep these rigs up when there’s no way to tell that they won’t rust, rupture, burst, break, leak, or otherwise continue the wrath of destruction that humans have brought upon the environment.

With procedures in place to safely remove these rigs from our waters as the global oil industry sees its downfall, there seems to be a pretty logical long term answer here. Force the companies to come pick up their garbage.

Artificial reef is deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo: Reefmaker via CC BY-SA 3.0

But What about the fish?

In the end, there’s probably a way to safely plug up these former drilling areas while at the same time holding onto the artificial reefs they’ve created. While we don’t want to hurt the environment that these species have grown accustomed to over the decades, it’s imperative to make sure that future leaks are prevented. With cooperation between governments and private companies, we can make sure that all environments are safe for the species which depend on them.

Thoughts? Feelings? Just want to debate? Sound off in the comments on the Deepblu Featured Section or on our Facebook Page. Play nice.

– Todd Allen Williams, Senior Editor