If you thought their parties were kinky, get this: those wacky kids over at the Department of the Interior have figured how to please their special friends in the oil business and boost the factory fish-farming industry in one swoop.

Writing on Ethicurean, Elanor Starmer reports that the Interior department’s Minerals Management Services is pushing what it calls a "rigs to reefs" program. A what? Here’s Elanor:

Federal regulations mandate that when an oil company decides to stop using an offshore rig, it must remove the platform and associated equipment within a year. Doing so, according to some sources, can cost up to $5 million. Under the MMS’ proposed “rigs-to-reef” program, companies will be able to leave the submerged part of the rig in the ocean to be used in the construction of a fish farm.

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And by doing so, Big Oil’s cost of dismantling the rig falls to $800,000. And not only do companies save millions by not having to remove their junk, but they also get a big break from liability. "Once the rig has become a reef, oil companies wash their hands of any future liability associated with it," Starmer writes. 

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She points to a source claiming that "Mercury contamination at some oil and gas rigs in the Gulf of Mexico appears to be so severe that the rigs could qualify" for Superfund status. Seems like the "rigs to reefs" program is really about pushing liability for ocean damage off of Big Oil’s balance sheet.

At the same time, it’s a boost to the least sustainable elements of the fish-farming world. Here’s Starmer:

Constructing an off-shore fish farm is a pricey venture indeed, but it’s much less expensive if you can hook it up to an existing oil rig. Dealing with the environmental impacts of fish farming is much less expensive when you don’t have to deal with them, but instead can let them wash away with the tide. Because aquaculture operations don’t have to pay these costs, the final product will be much cheaper — and it will likely put more sustainable fisheries out of business.

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