Vitter takes important step in protecting vital Gulf habitat
CCA applauds Louisiana senator for effort to avert rig removals
HOUSTON, TX - Coastal Conservation Association is applauding Sen. David Vitter (R-La) for legislation filed today that will prevent rigs and other structures from being summarily removed from the Gulf of Mexico.
In a knee-jerk response to the Gulf oil spill, the U.S. Department of Interior issued a directive in October of 2010 ordering that all non-producing rigs be plugged and any remaining structure removed within five years of the issuance of that directive. Sen. Vitter’s Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act of 2011 seeks to allow those structures to remain in the Gulf as vibrant artificial reefs.
“More than ever we need to create habitat for marine life in the Gulf, not dispose of it,” said Sen. Vitter. “These idle rigs are serving a valuable purpose by supporting our fisheries, and it just doesn’t make sense to remove them. I appreciate the Coastal Conservation Association for bringing this issue to my attention so we can reach a reasonable outcome that benefits the fish and the fishermen.”
“The structures are generally regarded as the largest man-made artificial reef in the world, providing habitat to dozens of species of fish and marine life, many of which are structure-dependent,” said Chester Brewer, chairman of CCA’s National Government Relations Committee. “Sen. Vitter, like all fishermen, realizes the critical connection between habitat and healthy fisheries, and we are grateful for his efforts to have those structures stay in the water as habitat and as popular fishing destinations for recreational anglers.”
There are approximately 3,500 offshore structures in the Gulf of Mexico and the directive, known as the Idle Iron Policy, would impact roughly 650 structures that have not produced oil or gas within five years of the directive issue date of Oct. 15, 2010.
“If nothing is done, a tremendous amount of habitat will be lost and the negative impact would be massive,” said Brewer. “In the aftermath of the oil spill disaster, it is understandable that the federal government felt the need to be seen taking action, but this directive could create far more problems than it solves. Sen. Vitter’s legislation serves as a reasonable approach to address the Administration’s concerns while maintaining this vital habitat.”
The Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act would not allow platforms to be removed until an assessment has been completed to determine whether there are coral populations or other protected species in the vicinity of the platform, and to identify any species that have recreational or commercial value. If it is determined that there is a substantial reef ecosystem around the structure, the decommissioning of the platform will be halted until it can be determined that removing it would not harm the reef ecosystem.
The Act further states that companies are exempt from the requirement to remove platforms from the marine environment as long as the owner commits to converting the platform into an artificial reef either by initiating discussions with applicable state governments regarding potential sites for the artificial reef or by taking steps to provide for “reefing in place.”
For reefing in place, the Act outlines several steps that must be taken, including removal of the top decks, maintaining an anode system and navigation aids, and paying into a Reef Maintenance Fund created by the Act. Those payments should equal the estimated costs associated with the removal of the platform that the owner would have been responsible for if the owner had not elected to reef the structure. The Reef Maintenance Fund is to be available without fiscal year limitation and not subject to appropriation, for the maintenance of artificial reefs established under this program.
“This is a well thought-out solution that works for everyone, but most importantly it works best for the marine environment,” said Brewer. “We look forward to working with Sen. Vitter and with Congress to get this bill passed as quickly as possible and keep those platforms in the Gulf as vital artificial reefs.”