WASHINGTON – An oil-state congressman and an environmentalist differed sharply Wednesday about whether old oil-drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico should be used as artificial habitats for fish and coral.
Rep. David Vitter,R-La.,is the sponsor of the “Rigs to Reef Act,” which would give the Interior Department authority to create a program using decommissioned oil drilling platforms to create an artificial reefs.
At a hearing before the House Committee on Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Natural Resources,Vitter and Lisa Speer of the National Resources Defense Council disagreed about whether such reefs were a good idea.
“These platforms could be used for fish-farming and other mariculture uses,” Vitter said. “Mariculture could increase fish populations and thereby reduce our dependence on foreign seafood imports.”
Because these platforms become home to large ecosystems,he suggested they could also be used for scientific research.
Speer maintained that more research must be done to examine the environmental impacts of leaving the platforms in place after they are no longer used. She said that health,liability and contamination all deserve examination. She said the scientific community does not agree on the issue.
“When you throw batteries out on the ocean floor and stuff grows on them,that is not a good idea,” she said.
Speer said there were concerns about the safety of the fish in the area because there have been reports of mercury contamination of fish in the Gulf of Mexico.
When Vitter asked Speer what alternatives she would have to on- or off shore oil drilling,she said she would support energy-efficient technologies.
Currently,most oil platforms that have ended production are pulled out of the ocean floor. To create reefs,the old platforms could remain standing or could be tipped over.
Vitter said that just 8 percent of decommissioned rigs are being used as reefs.
Steve Kolian,a representative from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality,agreed with Vitter’s proposal. He said the Gulf of Mexico has approximately 4,000 oil and gas platforms.
He said that more than 50 “federally managed fish,crustaceans,and live rock organisms” live in some artificial reefs.
Kolian said fish use the areas as spawning grounds,making it a habitat that produces more of the species. He said that on one platform,he found 13 species of egg-laying fish. By tearing these reefs down,he said,the organisms that live on the platforms would die and fish that do survive would lose their habitat.
The oversight hearing addressed the environmental impacts of on- and off-shore drilling and updated committee members on oil-drilling technology.
Several witnesses discussed new technologies that allow less direct impact on the environment around drilling and pumping areas.
For example,Hank Kulesza,the chief operating officer for K&M Technology group,said directional drilling,where multiple wells extend from one primary well,reduces the number of land surface wells.
Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo,R-Calif.,expressed his support for oil drilling.
“It's a matter of achieving balance in producing new energy and protecting our environment,” he said.
Pombo also spoke of the “false choice” between protecting the environment or producing energy. He said that modern technologies in oil drilling should be evaluated to look at “what we've learned … so we don't make the mistakes of the past.”