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Decommissioning FAQs

Generally, after the useful life of an oil and gas platform, it must be decommissioned (i.e., dismantled and disposed of) according to the terms of the Department of the Interior (DOI) lease by which the platform was authorized. DOI regulations include a disposal option that, under certain circumstances, allows keeping a biologically valuable structure in the marine environment as an artificial reef through a process called “Rigs-to-Reefs.” Artificial reefs not only can enhance aquatic habitat, but also provide an additional option for conserving, managing, and/or developing fishery resources and can provide recreational opportunities.

What are the roles of the U.S. Department of the Interior, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Rigs-to-Reefs?

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) has broad authority under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act to protect natural resources of the OCS. With the reorganization of the Department of the Interior’s Mineral Management Service, the role of DOI in Rigs-to-Reefs was split, as follows: Within DOI, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is responsible for regulatory, safety, environmental and conservation compliance for the development of the nation’s offshore oil and gas and renewable energy resources.

What are the implications of an EFH designation?

If a Council designates and NOAA approves the designation of an oil and gas structure (or other artificial structures) as EFH, NOAA and the Council are required to consider actions to minimize the adverse impacts of fishing activities on such EFH. Additionally, a Federal agency would be required to consult with NOAA if that Federal agency proposes to authorize, fund, or undertake an activity that may adversely affect the designated EFH.

What criteria must be met in order for a Council to designate artificial structures as EFH?

By definition, EFH must be necessary to fish for spawning, breeding, feeding, or growth to maturity. Essential fish habitats are those necessary to maintain a sustainable fishery and the managed species’ contribution to a healthy ecosystem. In order for NOAA to approve a Council’s proposal to designate oil and gas structures as EFH, a Council would need to demonstrate a linkage between the habitat functions and one or more major life history stages of one or more species managed under the MSA. Currently, there are no oil and gas structures in any U.S. waters designated as EFH.

Why are oil and gas structures being considered for designation as essential fish habitat?

The recreational fishing and diving communities asked the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council to consider designating oil and gas platforms as EFH. These communities value the structures for the recreational fishing and diving opportunities the structures provide that would be lost if the structures are removed from the water. In response to this request, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council discussed the matter at their August 2012 meeting.

How is essential fish habitat designated?

Regional Fishery Management Councils (Councils) are responsible for proposing essential fish habitat designations to NOAA for approval. NOAA reviews and determines if proposed essential fish habitat designations meet regulatory criteria for approval. Councils are composed of Federal and State marine resource agency representatives, as well as private citizens who are knowledgeable about fishery conservation and management and who are nominated by State governors and approved by the Secretary of Commerce.

What is essential fish habitat (EFH)?

The term "essential fish habitat" or EFH is defined under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA) and refers to waters and substrate necessary for fish to spawn, breed, feed or grow to maturity. Essential fish habitats are those necessary to maintain fish production consistent with a sustainable fishery and the managed species’ contribution to a healthy ecosystem.

How many designated reefing areas exist in the Gulf of Mexico?

The Gulf of Mexico OCS currently has 11 designated reefing areas. In addition, BSEE is currently working with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to develop two new artificial reef planning areas off the coast of Corpus Christi. The State of Texas has designated a large reefing area in the High Island OCS area where the reefing option is available for obsolete oil and gas structures subject to the terms and conditions of a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers general permit.

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