Reviving Rigs To Reefs
IN THE GULF OF MEXICO OFFSHORE OIL INDUSTRY, the jargon for rigs that are beyond their useful life is “idle iron.” But non-producing oil and gas wells are far from idle, as sea life of all descriptions thrive on the legs, pipes, and other below-water portions of these structures.
Under federal law, when a rig surpasses its useful life span, or the well is no longer producing oil
or gas, the operator must remove it from the water. Alternatively, and much to the delight of Gulf
Coast offshore anglers, the structure may be turned over to a state-operated artificial reef program.
Although rigs-to-reefs programs have been in place for decades under the auspices of the
fish and wildlife agencies in
the five Gulf states, the pro-
cess is bureaucratic, time-con-
suming, and sometimes more
expensive than just disman-
tling and removing the struc-
tures completely. But “reefing”
just got easier, thanks to a
major policy shift by the fed-
eral agency in charge of leasing
oil and gas tracts to private
operators and making decisions about
the fate of idle rigs. The Bureau of Safety
and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE),
an arm of the Department of the Interior,
in June revised its policy for evaluating
proposals to convert obsolete offshore
platforms into artificial reefs, making it
easier and more cost-effective for operators to participate with the states.
The policy removes a requirement for a five-mile buffer zone between designated reefing areas as well as
certain restrictions to reefing the structure where it stands, a process called “reefing in place.” It also allows
extensions to decommissioning deadlines when companies are actively pursuing acceptance into a state
program, and eliminates storm-toppled platforms from consideration.
“We’ve been working with our federal partners, state officials, and affected stakeholders [anglers] regarding inclusion of oil and gas infrastructure in the states’ artificial reef programs,” said BSEE Director James A.
Watson in announcing the policy, which angler groups, including BoatU.S., have advocated for the past 18
months. “It reflects the feedback we received and provides states greater flexibility in their planning, while
ensuring the marine environment is protected.” — R.L.
TO ASSIST FISHERY
SCIENTISTS IN BETTER
FISH THEY PURSUE, last
year over 50 individual
saltwater anglers on the
West Coast carefully collected stomachs, fin clips,
otoliths (the ear bone,
used to age fish), gonads,
or other organs from: 75
albacore, 381 bluefin tuna,
199 yellowfin tuna, 159
yellowtail, and 50 rockfish, according to
CUP ART OVERFLOWS
A painting of the legendary America’s
Cup competitor, the 12-Meter sloop
Weatherly, by noted marine artist Montague J. Dawson, showing
Weatherly competing in the 1962
competition, was recently sold for
$102,000. Appraisers had set the
sale estimate between $70,000 and
$90,000. — R.L.
WEST COAST RALLY MILESTONE
IF LONGEVITY IS A MEASURE of success in a boaters’ rally, then the
West Coast Baja Ha Ha is the king, with its 20th running this October.
The event expects the usual 150-200 boats on the starting line in San
Diego, California, on October 28 for the 750-mile odyssey down the
west coast of Mexico to Cabo San Lucas.
“In 1994, we launched an event that had been done biannually by
the Long Beach Yacht Club,” says Richard Spindler, self-titled Grand
pooh-bah of the Ha Ha. “We had 39 boats and the mother ship was my
Ocean 71 Big O. We had so much fun, we decided to do it every year.”
Today, Spindler and his crew, Andy Turpin (assistant pooh-bah) and
Dona de Mallorca (chief of security), sail each year on the Spindlers’
Profligate, a 63-foot catamaran. Each boat needs to be self-sufficient
as there are only two stops: the dusty little town of Turtle Bay where
you can get fuel, some provisions, and internet service, and Bahia Santa
Maria where there is nothing but a restaurant with a band that comes
into existence one day a year, to entertain the fleet of the Ha Ha.
Spindler estimates that about 2,500 boats and 10,000 sailors have
participated since the Ha Ha’s inception. Any boat over 27 feet with
a crew of at least two can participate. Powerboats are welcome. The
emphasis is on having fun and staying safe; there’s no official inspection
of the boats because Spindler says the Ha Ha crew is not there to tell
anyone what to do or how to do it. However, there are lots of the spon-
sors on hand before, after, and at times during, who offer all sorts of
equipment and services to help get the boats ready for a long passage.
There has never been an interruption in the running of the Ha
Ha, perhaps because it is a relatively manageable long-distance rally.
Unlike many East Coast and transatlantic rallies and races, the Ha Ha is
mostly a benign downwind adventure.
“The best thing about this event is the people,” adds Spindler. “I love
to catch up with the boaters along the way and see that look of accomplishment on their faces. It’s a confidence-inspiring first step for many
who go on to cruise the world. It is just the kind of event that makes
friends for life.” — ZUZANA PROCHAZKA