Removing Abandoned Oil Rigs Should be the Focus in the Gulf

August 5, 2010

It has currently been reported that there are more than 1,000 abandoned oil rigs and drilling structures in the Gulf of Mexico.  Not linked to the recently-announced drilling moratorium, the abandonment of these structures by their owners often occurred many years ago.  These structures, referred to as ‘idle iron’, were allowed to decay or collapse into the ocean.  The removal of these structures could provide us with a unique chance to create jobs and develop future economic opportunities throughout the Gulf.

The Associated Press reports that the actual number of structures, when you add those below the ocean on the sea floor, could be incredibly higher.  “More than 27,000 abandoned oil and gas wells lurk in the hard rock beneath the Gulf of Mexico, an environmental minefield that has been ignored for decades. No one – not industry, not government – is checking to see if they are leaking.”

“The well beneath BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig was being sealed with cement for temporary abandonment when it blew April 20th, leading to one of the worst environmental disasters in the nation’s history.  BP alone has abandoned about 600 wells in the Gulf, according to government data.”

Many feel that these abandoned structures are not a concern and might even be helpful in creating artificial reefs and fishing grounds.  However, steel pipe casings can rust through and old well caps can fail.  It is hard to estimate how many wells are already leaking throughout the Gulf of Mexico.

Current federal regulations mandate the removal of any rig that has been inactive for one year, but those regulations are not being fully enforced.  A report which was requested in 2007 by the Minerals Management Service (MMS) and written by the Louisiana State University identified 1,227 ‘idle iron’ structures in the Gulf of Mexico alone.

It has been suggested that residents of the states that border the Gulf of Mexico should be employed by the companies involved to remove this ‘idle iron’ immediately. By removing these abandoned and useless structures, in addition to creating income for citizens throughout the Gulf, the rig owners would be assisted in complying with existing regulations.  These areas could also be more effectively used for potential opportunities in the future.