Alternate Title

Use of Oil and Gas Platforms as Habitat in Louisiana's Artificial Reef Program


Louisiana's offshore oil and gas industry began in 1947, when the first well was drilled out of sight of land south of Terrebonne Parish, LA. Today, over 3,837 offshore oil and gas platforms have been installed, producing 25% of the U.S.A.'s natural gas and approximately 13% of its oil. In addition to meeting the world's energy needs, these structures also form one of the world's most extensive de facto artificial reef systems. However, federal regulations require that these structures be removed within 1 yr after the mineral lease is terminated. Disposal of obsolete offshore oil and gas structures is not only a financial liability for private industry, but can also result in a loss of productive marine habitat. In 1986, the Louisiana Fishing Enhancement Act was signed into law in response to the National Fishing Enhancement Act, creating the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program. This program was designed to take advantage of fishing habitat opportunities offered by these obsolete platforms. Since the program's inception, 25 reef sites have been created off Louisiana's coast using the components (jackets and decks) of 71 obsolete platforms. The use of obsolete oil and gas platforms in Louisiana has proved to be highly successful. Their quantity, design, longevity, and stability have provided a number of advantages over the use of traditional artificial reef materials. Participating companies also save money by converting structures into reefs rather than abandoning them onshore. They then are required to donate a portion of the savings to the state to run the artificial reef program. One disadvantage, however, is that the large size of these platforms restricts the distance from shore where they can be placed. To achieve the minimum clearance of 16 mover a submerged structure, as required by the New Orleans (8th) Coast Guard District regulations, the platforms must be placed in waters deeper than 30 m. Waters of this depth are found between 22 km and 115 km from shore on Louisiana's gently sloping continental shelf, making them almost inaccessible to many anglers. Funds generated by the program, however, can be used to develop reefs to closer to shore if alternative low-profile materials are used. Due to the high maintenance costs of both the structure and aids to navigation, the increased liability exposure, and the undetermined cost of removing the structure once it becomes a hazard to public safety and navigation, leaving the structures standing in place has thus far proved not to be a viable option in Louisiana.