Rags to Riches: Should Offshore Drilling Rigs be Transformed into Artificial Coral Reefs? Emily Baker, Brian Brooks, Jacob Fisher, Elise Smutko

Emily Baker, Brian Brooks, Jacob Fisher, Elise Smutko

Professor San Martin

HI 2400

6 December 2018

Jorgensen, Dolly.  “Environmentalists on Both Sides: Enactments in the California Rigs-to-Reefs Debate” New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies. Ed. Sara M. Pritchard, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press. 2013. 51-68.

Rags to Riches: Should Offshore Drilling Rigs be Transformed into Artificial Coral Reefs?

Dolly Jorgensen is an environmental and technological historian. She teaches history at the University of Stavanger, Norway. Before she taught history, Professor Jorgensen was a civil engineer with a focus on environmental engineering in Texas. This publication is a chapter in the book New Natures: Joining Environmental History with Science and Technology Studies. This literature discusses the cross-disciplinary intersection of technology and the environment in hopes to further the understanding of human-nature interactions.

Jorgensen poses two main arguments. The first argument addresses the possibility that decommissioned oil rigs off the coast of California should be converted into artificial reefs. These rigs currently support large populations of marine life and the removal of these rigs would negatively impact those populations. The second argument contrasts the first by stating that the decommissioned rigs should be removed because they slowly leach toxic materials into the ocean. Critics of the repurposed oil rigs are worried the rigs will become an environmental hazard in the future. Supporters believe that the rigs should not be removed because of the unique habitats that the abandoned rigs support. “In a television news report, CNN featured footage by undersea filmmaker David Brown showing colorful anemones and starfish on the platform legs with fish darting around. Brown commented during the broadcast, ‘I’m always in awe of nature’s ability to take our stuff, our mess, and create something beautiful out of it.” (Jorgensen 2013) On the other hand, those who stated that the rigs be remove say so “…because the structures are tainted by oil, the opposition considered the steel structures themselves current and future sources of pollution. As the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations put it: ‘The offshore oil platforms and their operations … have altered the natural environment and destroyed fishing grounds.’” Both arguments are claiming to be the more environmentally friendly option, the claim find common ground that removing the rigs is a poor idea because it will destroy established ecosystems. The other party claims that removing the rigs is a positive idea because it will prevent the leaching of toxic chemicals into the environment.

Supporters and opponents of reef-repurposing believe their opinions are environmentally friendly. Each of their claims are sustained with solid evidence.

Oil rigs could be viewed as “either a nature-enhancing device or a nature-destroying one”(Jorgensen 2013). The presence of sea life also influences the beliefs of supporters and opponents of repurposed oil rigs. Proponents argue that the platform serves as a habitat for fish and microfauna, while opponents cite the lack of evidence of the benefits for the fish  surrounding a repurposed oil rig. The question of the role of people in the marine environment is also raised. Environmentalists believe the oil industry must promise to return the ocean floor to its pre-industrial state, whereas others claim that locals have the right to retain the habitat created by the offshore oil platform as they are responsible for maintaining the oil rig.

The foundation of Earth Day in 1970 re-established the importance of recycling in society. The environmental movement forced individuals to recognize their increasing consumption of Earth’s precious resources. A method of minimizing waste, called upcycling, repurposes and extends the lifetime of man-made objects. It is a relatively new method of recycling objects originally destined for landfills. An example of upcycling is the use of old tires in playgrounds. The primary material in tires, rubber, is not biodegradable. Playgrounds present an innovative opportunity for tire upcycling: shredded tires are used as smooth playground mulch or whole tires make the perfect swing. Similar to the coral reefs derived from oil rigs, the use of tires in playgrounds creates no new waste or causes a need for new raw materials to be manufactured. These examples of upcycling demonstrate how large corporations or individual consumers can be involved in waste reduction.

Some questions to consider after reading this literature:

What are some of the negative side effects that could arise from allowing oil rigs be made into artificial reefs? Could this just be an excuse for later when more oil rigs are planned to be built?

What are possible ways to upcycle the waste produced by removing the rigs? Will the removal have any major risks?

How big will the effect of the oil rigs and their pollution of the water with any possible leaked chemicals if left for the growth of artificial reefs being built off of them? Will it be that large of a problem later, or can it be limited/ stopped entirely so that there is no need to worry?


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