Aging oil rigs off of California’s coast might remain long after they stop pumping oil, following a law passed last month by the state legislature that allows some retired platforms to become artificial reefs.
AB 2503, authored by Democrat Assembly Speaker John Perez, would allow oil companies the option of partially decommissioning rigs to serve as artificial habitats if doing so would provide environmental benefits. Although passed by a vote of 68-2 in the California Assembly, the bill must be signed by the governor to become an official law.
Perez authored AB 2503 in an attempt to create an environmentally beneficial alternative to the current law, which requires the full decommissioning of all oil rigs between 2015 and 2030. According to Perez’s representative Pete Price, the closing of an oilrig includes a method of environmental review.
“Each rig has to go through a rigorous approval process and in that process they have to prove there is a net benefit to the marine environment,” Price said. “It then requires that everything above the surface of the ocean and 80 meters below the surface is removed.”
If signed into law by the governor, the ownership of a partially decommissioned rig would transfer to the state and the remains would serve as an artificial reef. A portion of the money saved by oil companies would then provide the state with funds to continue marine preservation efforts.
“There is a financial benefit for the state since we receive some of the profit from the oil company and use it for conservation,” Price said.
The bill received backing from organizations such as the Sportfishing Conservancy. Group president Tom Raftican said he supported the bill in part because it could encourage the closing of rigs.
“By the way it is structured, it can actually help decommission them quicker,” Raftican said. “There are financial incentives to decommission them sooner.”
Despite significant support from state legislators, the bill also met resistance from the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Center and local Assemblyman Pedro Nava, among others. Nava cast one of only two votes against the bill in the assembly.
According to the Environmental Defense Center’s Chief Counsel Linda Krop, there is a potential for pollutants from artificial oil rig reefs to contaminate nearby water and worsen the marine ecosystem.
“We are concerned about the long-term impacts. They are surrounded by toxic mounds that will remain as pollutants in the environment,” Krop said. “It is certainly possible that those mounds will leech into the water.”
Additionally, Krop said there are concerns that fishermen may snag their nets or boats on the artificial reefs.
As of press time, no date has been set for the governor to consider the bill.