Rigs-to-Reefs policy changes win praise in Gulf of Mexico

BSEE’s new Rigs-to-Reefs policy could make the scheme more attractive for operators – and Gulf of Mexico fishermen are pleased, too.

More reefed rigs are anticipated now after the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) removed the requirement for a five-mile buffer zone between designated reefing areas in the Gulf of Mexico, and removed also certain restrictions to reefing rigs in place.
BSEE’s revised policy, announced 26 June, also extends decommissioning deadlines for platforms in cases where companies are actively trying to get them into a state reefing scheme.

Reefed rigs provide rich habitats for marine wildlife and anglers support the program in which operators sign over their rigs to participating Gulf of Mexico states when production has stopped.

In theory operators can save money where leaving the rigs in place or towing them to designated reef sites costs less than full removal.

But operators have said that a variety of factors, including a scarcity of accessible approved reef sites, can make participation in the program uneconomical.

One operator told DecomWorld that 36 miles was about the break-even tow distance because preparing a platform and towing it that far was about a two-day operation.

It is hoped that cutting the required buffer zone between designated reefing areas from five miles down to two miles will give operators more places to reef their rigs.

Fishermen praised the move.

“The new Rigs-to-Reefs policy should help reverse the trend of eligible rigs being unnecessarily removed,” said Mike Nussman, president and CEO of the American Sportfishing Association, “and allow these important structures to remain in the water for the benefit of fisheries and anglers.”

BSEE Director James A. Watson said the changes came as a result of dialogue with regulators, state officials and affected stakeholders in the Gulf of Mexico.

“This policy is reflective of the feedback we received,” he said. “It provides states greater flexibility in their planning and addresses the multiple uses for these areas while ensuring the marine environment is protected.”

BSEE says it worked with officials in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to determine a policy that would allow the states the greatest flexibility in their artificial reef planning while balancing environmental considerations with the various other uses for the structures and reefing areas.