Spreading Oil Rig Dumpsites in the Gulf of Mexico?


Please enjoy this a guest blog by Richard Charter, Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation.

Right now, the Interior Department is revisiting their policies governing the disposal of old drilling rigs and other petroleum infrastructure throughout the federal waters of our Gulf of Mexico. When an oil company signs an offshore lease contract, that includes an obligation to return the seabed to is natural state once the rig has reached the end of its economic life. Americans have every right to expect that each company will keep its promise. With thousands of rigs due for decommissioning in the next few years, we can either decide to help restore the Gulf of Mexico to its former vitality, or allow it to become a junkyard of epic proportions.

"Bring Back the Gulf" is a new book released by The Ocean Foundation and The Herbert W. Hoover Foundation to expose the dangerous misconceptions being promoted by Big Oil as it tries to fool the American public about the merit of dumping abandoned oil rigs into the Gulf of Mexico, and soon, off of the California coast. Many in the scientific and conservation community recently sent a letter encouraging responsible decommissioning to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who is currently reconsidering how best to deal with the upcoming tidal wave of abandoned rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. 

At this point in time there are more than 5,000 active leases in the Gulf of Mexico with over 2,600 rigs destined for decommissioning, and while not every one of those could find itself in line for seafloor disposal, companies will no doubt pursue that cheaper option for many of them. The Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River Delta, like the few other similar lush river deltas around the planet, were at one time among the most productive ecosystems on earth, but now have become a vast industrial and chemical experiment, and the results of that experiment are not looking encouraging.  

The good news is that whenever an oil company has leased a federal offshore tract in the Gulf, it has at the same time also signed a contract promising that it will remove that drilling rig at the end of its useful life, reuse or recycle the components, seal off all remaining wellheads, and then restore the seafloor to as-near natural conditions as possible. The Interior Department calls this their “Idle Iron” policy. No “Idle Iron” is to be left in place as a public liability, to present a hazard to navigation, or to put Gulf waters at risk of pollution or other harm in the event of hurricane damage. The oil and gas industry would like to have us all believe that leaving a spent oil platform in place, or cutting it off and dumping it on the seafloor nearby, magically creates something resembling a coral reef, when in fact the simple biofouling community on the leftover seafloor junk does not resemble a natural coral reef. A clever and persistent oil industry public relations campaign has, for too long, dominated the discussion of how best to responsibly dispose of “Idle Iron”.  

The Interior Department continues to be under great political pressure to allow more and more waivers exempting companies from their “Idle Iron” removal policies, because oil interests can generally expect to save at least half of their end-of-life decommissioning costs by just using seabed disposal. Now, more than ever, while Interior is engaged in revisiting their “Idle Iron” policy and considering stronger decommissioning regulations, even as the disposal of so many rigs is coming up in the next decade of so, it is important for the public to have a true picture of what’s in the balance, so now we’re introducing a new book about what’s really going on.

Recently, the Obama Administration announced new seismic airgun surveys that will lead to opening the Atlantic Coast from Maryland down to Cape Canaveral in Florida to offshore drilling. We need to know if rigs there will eventually just be dumped on the seafloor as well. As of July 31, 2014, the Interior Department was just concluding a comment period on their preparation of a new Five-Year Offshore Drilling Plan from 2017 through 2022 that’s expected to target the California coast, the Atlantic coast, Florida’s Gulf Coast and Panhandle, and even more of the Arctic Ocean. Where will spent rigs be dumped someday in these regions?

At this critical moment, we are releasing “Bring Back the Gulf,” a clear and concise explanation of the fundamental steps that must be taken now to improve the chance that we may someday bring back the Gulf of Mexico. We need to stop the routine issuance of waivers to the “Idle Iron” policy at the Department of Interior, we need to carefully re-examine what has been misleadingly called the “Rigs-to-Reefs” program, and we need to involve the public in the federal and state decision-making process that has been enabling the oil industry to increasingly avoid their corporate responsibility to bring back the Gulf.

You can now obtain your own complimentary download of the “Bring Back the Gulf” eBook in both Kindle and iPad versions at:


This guest blog was written by Richard Charter, Senior Fellow with The Ocean Foundation.

Recent Posts

Senior Policy Director Matt Rota recently penned an op-ed for The Advocate about the red...
Written by Kendall Dix
Tuesday, 30 October 2018
Imagine showing up for a day at the beach and being told that you’re on...
Written by Christian Wagley
Monday, 29 October 2018
This article was originally published by the Marine Fish Conservation Network . As a fisheries...
Written by Kendall Dix
Monday, 29 October 2018
As the sun is still rising into a warm fall day, I pile into a...
Written by Christian Wagley
Tuesday, 23 October 2018
As with all who are following the devastation from Hurricane Michael, I’m shocked and saddened...
Written by Christian Wagley
Wednesday, 17 October 2018
Many Americans have never heard of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), despite the...
Written by Raleigh Hoke
Friday, 12 October 2018
The comment period closed September 6th on the “One Lake” project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement...
Written by Andrew Whitehurst
Tuesday, 09 October 2018

Latest Actions