Celebrating National Ocean Month
Posted June 6, 2019
Following past White House precedent, President Trump recently designated June 2019 as National Ocean Month in recognition of the ocean’s role in supporting the U.S. economy, national security and environment, while recommitting to safeguard its vital resources.
The U.S. offshore energy industry wholeheartedly supports the sentiments in the president’s proclamation and demonstrates this day in and day out.
Offshore energy development is strategically important to sustaining and growing the U.S. energy revolution and ensuring an energy-secure future for generations to come. Production in the Gulf of Mexico alone is a major reason the U.S. leads the world in the production of natural gas and oil, accounting for 17 percent of total U.S. crude oil production. For the offshore energy industry, access to these critical resources comes with the responsibility to protect the ocean environment.
For example, take industry’s innovative approach to disposing of out-of-service offshore natural gas and oil production platforms, a program dubbed “Rigs to Reef.” Instead of dismantling “decommissioned” platforms and towing them to shore to be cut up and sold as scrap, industry is turning many of the platforms into artificial reefs.
The Gulf lacks natural reefs. Not long after oil and natural gas platforms first appeared in the Gulf, fishermen found that they caught more fish near platforms. Subsequent research determined that parts of the platform below the ocean surface act as artificial reefs, attracting and enhancing fish populations (photo below from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s website).
Once these platforms go out of service, they’re stripped of equipment and materials and then carefully sunk to the sea floor in a designated location. After the structure settles to the ocean bottom, it provides several acres of living and feeding habitat for thousands of underwater species. Here’s a video on the conversion of Shell’s Cougar platform into an artificial reef:
This program is beneficial from many perspectives. Constructed of corrosion-resistant steel that withstands breakup, a platform has a large, open structure that allows easy circulation for fish and provides havens for barnacles, corals, sponges, clams, bryozoans, and hydroids. Within six months to a year after a rig is initially placed on the sea floor, it will be a thriving reef ecosystem completely covered with marine life. The newly created reef attracts additional mobile invertebrates and other fish species and an even more complex food chain develops.
The rigs-to-reefs approach saves the industry millions of dollars a year, and part of this savings is shared with local communities. These communities also benefit directly from the artificial reefs. Commercial and recreational fishing and recreational scuba diving flourish because there’s habitat for enriched marine life – which in turn helps increase local tourism. In 1984, the federal government passed the National Fishing Enhancement Act, which further strengthened the program. Louisiana and Texas followed suit in 1986 and 1990, respectively, forming their own programs. Today, all five states on the Gulf of Mexico have artificial reef programs, and such reefs also are found in other locations around the world.
Offshore energy operations are safe and compatible with commercial and recreational fishing, military uses of the ocean, tourism, recreational activities and protected ocean life areas. Our industry has demonstrated this compatibility for decades and remains committed to protecting the environment in which it operates, both on our lands and off our shores.
About The Author
Jessica Lutz is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. Jessica joined API after 10+ years leading the in-house marketing and communications for non-profits and trade associations. A Michigan native, Jessica graduated from The University of Michigan with degrees in Communications and Political Science. She resides in London, and spends most of her free time trying to keep up with her energetic Giant Schnauzer, Jackson.
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