Monday, April 11, 2005

Oil Riggs Spawn Ecosystems

Marine Life Complicates Removal of Old Oil Rigs

By Cheryl Lyn Dybas
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, April 11, 2005; Page A10

CHARLOTTE HARBOR, Fla. -- A rusting oil rig perched on the muddy bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, notorious for its vast "dead zone" off the Mississippi Delta, might seem an unlikely setting for a thriving ecosystem.

But that is exactly what Paul Sammarco has found on more than a dozen of the 4,000-plus drilling platforms that dot the Gulf. Sammarco, a marine biologist at the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, has discovered that the rigs have spawned lush marine habitats that are home to a profusion of rare corals and 10,000 to 30,000 fish each.

The results of his research, which he will publish later this spring in the journal Marine Biology, have thrown a surprising new wrinkle into an ongoing debate on how best to dispose of the thousands of old rigs due to be abandoned as oil and gas production winds down. His work has also raised questions about the "Rigs to Reefs" program under which states bordering the Gulf have been turning old rigs into artificial reefs designed to sustain fish, sponges and other marine life.

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