The environment is a very emotional topic to discuss for a lot of people, one with heavy implications for the future. Fossil fuels versus green energy, heating oceans, greenhouse gasses, all of these are intense conversations with a lot of room for nuance. The future of the fossil fuel industry is fluid, and there may be more positivity in the conversation than it might seem on the surface.
Once Useful, Now Reaching Their End
There are more than 7500 oil and gas platforms installed around the world throughout the oceans, pulling crude out of the ground for gas in our cars and dozens of other things. Many of these have been around for decades and are, therefore, reaching the end of their productive lives in the fossil fuel industry.
The question of what to do with these rigs once they’re retired has been the subject of intense debate between corporations and environmental advocates. The process of retiring and removing the rigs would be complicated and expensive, and it turns out that there may be broader implications for their removal than initially thought.
All In The News
The topic of marine diversity and the ocean has been common in headlines lately. Ocean acidity and reduced biodiversity due to overfishing and heating waters have been particularly common conversational topics, along with the presence of plastic in the ocean and fish dying off due to lack of food.
That exact biodiversity challenge could have found an unexpected savior in the ocean rigs that environmental activists are so insistent on being removed once they’re no longer useful. But there’s a bigger story to these ocean structures, one that can’t be seen from the surface.
Ocean Diversity Often Finds a Way
The ocean is a diverse ecosystem, with many ways of rectifying issues if they arise. Man made problems create a unique challenge to our environment, though. Since the Industrial Revolution, our oceans have been facing their biggest struggle yet.
A modern example comes out of Denmark. In the late twentieth century, Denmark mined many boulders from the ocean floor for mining purposes. This act unintentionally devastated marine diversity as fish no longer had habitats, and tiny crustaceans and corals no longer had anywhere to attach to in order to grow and thrive.
But Sometimes The Environment Needs a Little Help
The flattened ocean bottom from Denmark’s interference created a great deal of problems, including a lack of biodiversity and reduced fishing grounds. What seemed to be an initially harmless act turned out to have wide-ranging implications.
In the years since, Denmark has invested time, effort, and money into rebuilding the underwater reefs that they so carelessly destroyed. They even have gone so far as to bring in new boulders for reefs to build on from far away. This very act, the artificial introduction of structures for marine life, has become the center of the conversation when it comes to past-date oil rigs.
The Ocean Reclaims
What may not be common knowledge to the average person is how quickly the environment can start to reclaim man-introduced structures. If a tire is dropped into the ocean, within a month there will be barnacles growing on it and species of fish swimming among the structure as if it had always existed.
These oil rigs, in that way, have become a part of the environment that they were planted in. Many of the rigs have been in existence for years, if not decades. When scientists have visited them, the shocking array of marine life that has congregated around these structures is truly astounding.
A Complicated Conversation – Or Is It?
Rigs off the coast of California have been in use for years, some having been built as far back as 1969. Of the 27 structures, only 15 of them are still in use, and the conversation about what to do with them has been challenged by the way the ocean has reclaimed the rigs to provide new life for fish.
Oil rigs consist of platforms and lattice work metal that help hold the entire thing in place, and its on these surfaces that marine life have congregated in a dense way. The lattice are good hiding places for fish, barnacles and various species including young corals.
Corals Are In Danger
The presence of corals on these ocean rigs is particularly important in the conversation of ocean diversity. It’s been reported many times in the news how rising ocean temperatures are damaging coral reefs in massive quantities, in a process called “coral bleaching.”
Coral bleaching is when the algae that coral depend on flee in the presence of rising water temperature. This leaves the coral pale and susceptible to illness. The importance of coral reefs cannot be overstated, with their influence in commercial fishing, medicine, weather control, and more.
A Massive Source of Biodiversity … But Does It Matter?
Coral reefs are considered some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet as far as biodiversity. But in studies on oil rigs that have been taken out of commission, some scientists found that the rigs housed even more diversity than natural reefs, up to 27 times more productive in some studies.
So if they’re such productive, dense areas of biodiversity, what’s the concern? Well, in 1958 mandates were put in place by the Geneva Convention on the Continental Shelf requiring that oil companies took responsibility for their infrastructure once they reached the end of their life. Changing this mandate would require significant legislation, and it’s not a widely popular idea.
A Way Forward, Even If Some Disagree
Though it’s become clear through research and longevital studies that these ocean rigs pose a good in the world through creating a habitat for fish, many environmentalists disagree with keeping them standing. It is believed that leaving the rigs would allow the oil companies to metaphorically wash their hands of responsibility for the environmental harm that they caused.
The conversation is, of course, nuanced. Is it more important to hold the companies accountable for the environmental harm they caused? Or is it more important to move forward, encouraging biodiversity and life at its source by leaving the artificially-built reefs intact? One might not agree with the ultimate decision, but the planet will always find a way to thrive.