Abandoned oil rigs host thriving ecosystems, stir debate

Discovery of thriving ecosystems on some abandoned oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico is refueling a debate over what to do with old rigs once their oil-drilling life is over. Some conservationists have been advocating a “Rigs to Reefs” program whereby old platforms are tipped over, cut down below the water’s surface, or towed away and sunk, creating artificial reefs for a variety of marine life below the surface. Others, like biologist Paul Sammarco, who’s found abundant ecosystems on more than a dozen of the gulf’s 4,000 still-standing rigs, are advocating for leaving platforms where they are so the unlikely communities of fish and rare corals found there can continue to flourish. Oil companies, of course, think that plan sounds just grand. Disposing of old platforms now costs them up to $400 million a year. And with 150 to 200 rigs projected to be abandoned annually in the next 10 to 15 years, an estimated $10 billion is at stake.