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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Rigs to Reefs: Exploring the Future of California's Offshore Oil and Gas Platforms


Rigs-to-Reefs (R2R) is a process, managed and maintained by a governmental agency, in which oil companies choose to modify a rig so that it can continue to support marine life. Although the decommissioning process is easily and routinely done in shallow waters, the depth and mass of most of California’s platforms make their eventual removal complex and costly. As oil wells are deemed to be no longer economically efficient and offshore production slows to a halt, California stands at an important policy crossroads. To address this issue, California policy makers must decide whether a R2R program serves ecological and economic goals better than the current status quo of complete rig removal. Many advocates claim that the R2R program atones for diminished diversity caused by human impacts near shore by providing an artificial habitat in which fishes, crustaceans, and marine mammals can thrive. Additionally, social and economic benefits make the R2R program an attractive alternative to complete rig removal. In contrast, opponents of the R2R program argue that capped oil sources near artificial reefs pose severe threats of liability, pollution, and other risks. Through a cost-benefit analysis, comparing and contrasting these two opposing points of view, this paper evaluates the economic and ecological efficiency of the Rigs-to-Reef program in California. Our principal finding is that a well-designed and efficiently implemented R2R program for California would likely result in direct and indirect benefits that far exceed the costs. Based on our evaluation, we recommend that a state and/or federal program be established that would benefit both the offshore environment and the citizens of California.

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