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Posted by on November 06, 2005 at 10:33:34:

U.S. House of Representatives’ Resources Committee Chairman Richard Pombo is proposing to end the 25-year moratorium on new offshore oil drilling with a rider in the 2006 Budget Reconciliation Bill to convert old rigs to “reefs” or offshore fish farms. The “rigs to reefs” language allows abandoned offshore oil and gas rigs off the hook for removal and permits them to be transformed into polluting offshore fish farms.

Section 6521 of the House Resource Committee’s Fiscal Year 2006 Budget Reconciliation bill contains a so-called “rigs to reefs” provision that allows present and future decommissioned oil and gas rigs to remain in place even after production ceases, so they can be used for other uses, including offshore fish farms. The result would be that 1) energy companies would no longer be responsible for removing their oil and gas platforms or the mounds of polluted mud they produce; and 2) large polluting fish farms could be permitted on and around these rigs without any specific environmental standards.

Current law requires owners of oil and gas rigs to remove them and restore the seabed within one year after production ceases. Section 6521 allows energy companies to avoid paying the costs of removing their existing rigs (an estimated $9.9 billion from 1985-2020) if the Secretary of Interior allows the rigs to be abandoned or transferred. Oil and gas companies’ future platforms, such as those that are established in areas where the current moratorium on new oil and gas leases is lifted, could also avoid removal. This section allows any decommissioned oil and gas rig to be redesignated as a “reef,” even if that rig could negatively impact the marine environment and wild-fish populations.

Section 8521 further allows the establishment of commercial fish farming in federal waters without environmental standards. It specifically allows the Secretary of Interior to permit decommissioned oil and gas rigs for use in fish farming, also known as offshore aquaculture. This form of aquaculture involves the raising of carnivorous finfish, such as cod, halibut, and red snapper, in large cages where fish waste and chemicals flush straight into the open ocean. These farms can introduce escaped non-native fish species that compete with and spread disease to wild-fish populations. Damage to the farms from storms is one of the primary ways that farm-raised fish can escape. In the late nineties, for example, storms destroyed an offshore aquaculture test-cage placed adjacent to an oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico. This bill will allow commercial fish farming in federal waters for the first time ever, even though there has not been one Congressional hearing on the matter.

Section 6521 does not have any provisions that will generate revenue for the federal government, nor has it even been the subject of any Congressional hearing. Action on the Budget Reconciliation Act is expected next week in the Congress. Fishermen and others concerned for fish and fisheries are being asked to call their members of Congress asking them to oppose the bill.

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