Legislation seeks to keep artificial reefs in the Gulf

Sen. Vitter files bill to streamline process, expand reefing areas for energy structures

Posted on May 31, 2013

WASHINGTON DC (5-29-13) - With the clock ticking towards removal of an ever-increasing number of energy platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) has filed legislation that would make it easier for operators to leave those structures in the marine environment and continue serving as artificial reefs.

“A number of bureaucratic obstacles have been created that make it even more difficult for energy companies to elect to keep those structures in the Gulf for habitat purposes rather than removing them for scrap,” said Pat Murray, president of Coastal Conservation Association. “We are grateful for Sen. Vitter for targeting the red tape that has been causing some of these valuable platforms to be removed unnecessarily.  As anglers, we share his goal of leaving as much of that structure in the Gulf as possible.”

Due to extraordinary liability issues, it is virtually impossible to leave the platforms standing upright indefinitely, but options do exist for coastal states to assume liability for structures that are cut and placed in designated artificial reefing areas. Sen. Vitter’s bill (S.1079) contains important steps to expedite the application process for new structures to be approved for state-run Rigs to Reefs programs.

“In our extensive dealings in this issue, one of the hurdles often cited by industry is the exorbitant length of time it takes to get a ruling on whether a specific rig can be a candidate for a Rigs to Reef program,” said Murray. “This bill requires a decision not more than 150 days after the application is submitted. That is a key provision because the pace of removals is poised to increase markedly over the next two years and an expedited process will allow far more structures to be reefed rather than removed.”

When weighing the economic benefits of reefing, proximity to reefing sites is a critical component as towing costs are prohibitive. S.1079 requires 20 new artificial reef planning sites to be created in federal waters adjacent to Gulf states – six off both Texas and Louisiana, three each off Mississippi and Alabama, and five off Florida. At least 10 of those sites will have to be located in waters between 100 and 200 feet, and the remainder at a depth not greater than 200 feet. Additionally, current regulations also require a distance of at least five miles between reefed structures; S.1079 would reduce that distance to two miles.

“The more reefing sites in the Gulf, the more likely it is that the reefing option will make economic sense as well as environmental sense,” said Murray. “Sen. Vitter’s bill creates significantly more opportunity to save these structures.”

Over the history of offshore energy development, nearly 6,000 structures have been placed in the Gulf of Mexico and yet there are fewer than 3,000 there today. Requirements to remove those structures have been written into leases since the first offshore well was drilled, and removals have been a part of the regular course of business for many decades. Anglers have only recently felt the removals more acutely as near-shore energy reserves play out, structures are removed and nothing new comes in to replace them. As the energy industry focuses more and more of its efforts in deeper water, anglers and divers are seeing their favorite platforms pulled and not finding any new places to go. CCA has been active in seeking administrative and legislative paths to secure as much of that structure as possible to remain as marine habitat.

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