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Rigs to Riches?

Oil drillers say abandoning offshore structures would foster a wealth of marine life. Critics call it cost-cutting.

October 24, 1999|SEEMA MEHTA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"A reef is a natural, alive animal system. An oil well is an oil well. It's absolutely ludicrous to call an oil well a reef," said Gordon Labedz, a member of the Sierra Club's Coastal Protection Committee.

"When they dump the entire thing underwater because they don't want to pay the cost of dismantling these atrocities, they're creating an enormous amount of toxic pollution in the ocean. Those establishments are just completely covered with chemicals and petrol products."

The Surfrider Foundation of San Clemente supports artificial reefs only as replacements for natural reefs destroyed by people.

"Our position is that artificial reefs should be looked at when you have an existing reef habitat that's been impacted by human activity," said Eve Kliszewski, Surfrider's environmental director.

Susan Jordan, a board member of the League for Coastal Protection, disputes the proposal's basic premise that a rig could ever be a reef.

"Some people try and say this is a habitat. It's not--it's an oil company leaving debris in the ocean. We have a tremendous amount of debris left over by them already," she said. "The analogy that I use is a telephone pole versus a tree. Just because it sits there, it's a structure and birds can sit on it doesn't mean it's a viable habitat."

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Retiring Rigs

After decades of pumping oil from the sea floor, the seven offshore oil platforms off of Orange County's coast will likely be retired in coming years. Platform Edith, owned by Nuevo Energy Corp., could be the first to be decommissioned around 2005. But the fate of these mammoth steel structures, and the tons of underwater aquatic life attached to them, could rest on a controversial proposal that would allow obscure oil rigs to be turned into artificial reefs.

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