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Lawmakers back bill aimed at blocking removal of non-producing oil rigs

GULF OF MEXICO — Under legislation cosponsored by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), coral reef growth and other marine habitats surrounding offshore energy rigs are among the details that must be assessed before the Interior Department forces removal of non-producing platforms from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Rigs to Reefs Habitat Protection Act (S.1555) would allow some non-producing offshore oil and gas platforms to remain in the Gulf of Mexico and other U.S. waters if they have become habitats for coral populations and other critical marine life. Current Interior Department policy requires defunct rigs to be decommissioned and removed within five years.

“It seems counterproductive to have a blanket policy that requires the removal of all structures even if they are fostering healthy coral and fish ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico,” Cochran said. “This legislation allows non-productive platforms to be assessed for potential marine life benefits before they are summarily removed. I think this is a balanced approach.”

The Rigs to Reefs legislation would prohibit the removal of non-producing offshore oil and gas platforms before they are assessed to determine if coral populations or other protected species are in the platform’s vicinity. The reviews must also identify any recreational or commercial species in the area. Decommissioning would be suspended if it were determined that platform removal would harm such ecosystems.

The bill would also exempt certain rig removal deadlines for rig lessees that commit to place the platform in an artificial reef program under that National Fishing Enhancement Act of 1984. The Rigs to Reefs legislation also creates a Reef Maintenance Fund that would be sustained by payments from lessees that enroll in an artificial reef program and commit to maintaining an anode system on the remaining rig structure.

S.1555 was authored by Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and has been referred to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. A companion measure, HR.3429, has been introduced by Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.).  That bill is cosponsored by Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) and Rep. Alan Nunnelee (R-Miss.).

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