In the Bass Strait between mainland Australia and Tasmania exist a number of oil and gas fields. What is known as the Gippsland Basin is a collection of fields including the Kingfish, Mackerel and Marlin field’s where dozens of rigs and platforms excavate natural resources from the Cretaceous-Eocene clastic rocks that were deposited during the break-up of Australia and Antarctica millions of years ago. While our need for continued offshore oil and gas seems insatiable, trillion dollar industries including such as Exxon are responsible for countless issues that plague our ocean; including spills and habitat destruction.
500-600 Oil Platforms reefed to date
As a way to counteract this destruction to some degree, two entrepreneurs in California created a non-profit company to propose an alternative to complete rig removal upon the decommissioning of the oil and gas platforms. Rigs to Reef was created by Emily Callahan and Amber Jackson, two marine scientists who identified that the removal of the platforms was both costly for the oil companies but more importantly detrimental to the creatures that had created a home on the structure over the years. “There are oil platforms found in almost every ocean around the world, which means there is significant global potential. The Gulf of Mexico is the birthplace of the Rigs-to-Reefs program, and to date, between 500 and 600 platforms have been reefed there,” states Jackson. “We would like to see the example set in the Gulf of Mexico become the rule and not the exception. All platforms will, at some point, need to be decommissioned”. It is a hope that Australia will soon follow suit on their own rigs that are due for decommissioning.
Ways to get from rig to reef?
The creatures of the ocean are resilient as they are precious, and sponges, scallops, anemones and schools of fish make their homes on and between the steel structures that criss-cross underneath the rig. After capping the oil well, Jackson and Callahan propose 3 ways to create an artificial reef from the once hazardous platform. First remove and tow the rig to shallower waters, topple the structure on its side or remove the upper section of the platform and then create two sights. This would allow the dive site to be deep enough to not cause hazard to boat traffic and shallow enough that recreational divers can be within their limits.
In America there are many decommissioned and functioning rigs that are dived upon in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of California. An unorthodox site, these rigs have become a haven for both marine flora and fauna.
There are positives and negatives to examine, for example there is a great deal of education needed to convince and prepare the general public that these rigs are suited to stay in the ocean and not be scrapped. Furthermore, cultural communities may oppose structures such as these being used in their spiritual waters. That being said the benefits for marine life seem to be unparalleled – ecological benefits for the marine ecosystem as well as compensation for inshore habitat loss is an issue that governments have been trying to find a solution for decades, and now may be the chance.