Oil Platforms Should Be Kept As Artificial Reefs, Scientist Says
By TIM MOLLOY
SANTA BARBARA, Calif. (March 14) - Marine biologist Milton Love drives
a hybrid car, displays a banner of left-wing revolutionary Che Guevara
on his laboratory wall - and has backing from Big Oil.
The reason: his finding that oil platforms off California's central
coast are a haven for species of fish whose numbers have been
dramatically reduced by overfishing.
That is good news to oil executives, who are looking for reasons not to
pay hundreds of millions of dollars to remove the platforms once the
crude stops flowing.
Environmentalists say oil companies are simply trying to escape their
"Just because fish are there doesn't mean the platform constitutes
habitat," says Linda Krop, an attorney for the Santa Barbara-based
Environmental Defense Center. "That's like taking a picture of birds on
a telephone wire and saying it's essential habitat."
The 27 platforms - skeletal-looking structures that house dormitories,
offices and massive pumps - were installed over the past four decades
and now produce 72,000 barrels of oil a day. Environmentalists and
coastal residents despise them for spoiling the view and disrupting the
Federal law requires oil companies to remove the platforms when
operations are complete, though no one knows whether it will be years
or decades before the deposits under the sea floor run out.
Oil companies already are pressing state and federal officials to keep
the rigs in place, citing Love's finding that platforms provide homes
for bocaccio, cowcod and other fish.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said last week it
might consider the idea but wants to know more about the effects of oil
platforms on marine life.
Since the 1950s, when heavy fishing began in the region, some species
of fish have been reduced to 6 percent of their previous numbers,
according to Love. Some fisheries have closed, and the fishing fleet
has shrunk by a third.
Love, a researcher at the University of California at Santa Barbara,
films fish from a submarine and then counts them in his lab. He says
some platforms are surrounded with fish packed as tightly as "cocktail
wieners in a can."
"If anyone wants to come up and count the fish, we'll provide the first
beer," Love says. "But they're going to have to bring the rest. And
they're going to need a few cases because we have 11 years of
Love gets about 80 percent of his research money from the government
and the rest from the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program, a
nonprofit group funded almost entirely by oil companies. It has
contributed about $100,000 a year to Love's research since 1999,
executive director George Steinbach says.
Love says no amount of oil money can sway his research - fish either
cluster at the platforms or they don't. And because they do, he says
his personal opinion is that the rigs should stay in place, cut below
the waterline so that ships can pass safely over them.
"If you remove a platform you'll kill many millions of animals," he
Environmentalists say if the platforms were removed, fish would return
to the underwater boulder fields and rocky outcroppings that form
natural reefs along the Southern California coast.
In the Gulf of Mexico, more than 200 rigs have been converted into
artificial reefs, either by toppling them or by lopping them off.
Krop, the environmental lawyer, says rig-to-reef conversions make more
sense in the Gulf of Mexico because the waters there have a mud bottom
and fewer natural reefs.
Converting platforms between Long Beach and Point Conception north of
Santa Barbara could be $600 million to $1 billion cheaper than removing
them, Steinbach says. He says the oil companies would contribute up to
half their savings to state conservation programs.
Widespread opposition from environmentalists and residents has killed
legislation that would have allowed such a deal.
Now I cannot say without looking at actual data which side I would be on. However, I do know how artificial reefs are havens for fish, it serves as more structure than natural reefs and can support higher numbers of fish. I don't know what the rocky reefs are like in California, but if they are large numbers of fish, commercially important or otherwise, at these oil rig structures, then why not keep them, by removing the above water sections? I don't see how it is such a bad deal, especially knowing the economic benefits through both fisheries and tourism of having them...