April 17, 2023

Saving Fisheries Habitat One Oil Platform at a Time

Article Contact: Chris Horton,

Why It Matters: If you have ever fished offshore in the Gulf of Mexico from Alabama to Texas, chances are, you found fish near an offshore oil and gas platform. These hard structures that dot the Gulf provide valuable habitat for fish, corals, and invertebrates and important fishing destinations for anglers and commercial fishermen alike. Unfortunately, many have been removed through decommissioning, but we at the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) are working to ensure those that remain can have an opportunity to be permanently converted artificial fish meccas.


  • Since the late 1940’s, nearly 7,000 offshore oil and gas platforms were installed in the Gulf of Mexico, providing otherwise scarce hard substrates that become the catalyst for thriving mini marine ecosystems.
  • Unfortunately, only about 1,300 remain, with many of those nearing or having reached the end of their production life and will have to be removed or converted to artificial reefs through the Rigs to Reefs program.
  • The process for decommissioning, whether scrapping on shore or donating to a state’s artificial reef program, can be cumbersome and takes time. When multiple structures are ordered to be decommissioned at once, many find their way to land and we lose important habitat.
  • Working through the appropriations process in Congress, CSF hopes to allow for pauses in decommissioning, provided certain conditions are met.

Hard substrates, whether natural or artificial, represent a relatively small portion of the total seafloor of the outer continental shelf in the Gulf of Mexico (Gulf), yet hard substrates provide the catalyst for teaming reef ecosystems, from corals and other invertebrates to popular commercial and recreational fish species. Beginning in the late 1940’s, the construction of oil and gas platforms in the Gulf provided a significant boost in hard substrates, enhancing fisheries abundance and fishing success. Unfortunately, we are down to only 1,300 structures remaining from a high of nearly 7,000 over time, and with many more slated to be removed soon, we stand to lose even more of these gifts to fish habitat.

The Rigs to Reefs program provides an opportunity for the platform owners to donate the structure to a state’s artificial reef program. However, due to the planning required and the coordination with state fish and wildlife agencies, energy-producing companies are often forced to simply comply with the expedited removal in the absence of the time and resources necessary to pursue a potential donation to state reefing programs when several platforms are ordered to be decommissioned in a short amount of time.

To ensure we have the maximum opportunity to safely repurpose these platforms in the Rigs to Reefs program, CSF is asking Congress to provide guidance to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement through the appropriations process to pause decommissioning orders if three conditions are met. Those conditions include: an expressed interest by the energy company to donate the structure to the program; that all wells connected to the structure are plugged and abandoned in the same safe manner as they would be if decommissioned to land; and that they do not represent a risk to navigation or the environment.

CSF recently led a coalition of the nation’s leading marine recreational fishing conservation organizations in a letter in support of this request. Likewise, each of the bipartisan state legislative sportsmen’s caucuses from the four Gulf energy-producing states penned a similar letter in support of saving these important fish habitats that are essential to their recreational anglers, commercial fishermen, and coastal economies.

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