Among the endangered species on our coast, count California's 27 offshore oil rigs. Even as other states lobby for expanded drilling, President Obama has left a federal moratorium on Pacific Coast drilling intact — meaning that within 20 years, the existing rigs will probably vanish as the wells they're tapping dry up. Yet while the unsightly and environmentally risky platforms are destined to be scrapped, what will remain underwater is very much in question.
As Times staff writer Jack Dolan reported Sunday, a bill is sailing through the Legislature that would allow oil companies to remove only the top part of the rigs, leaving the rest — up to a depth of 85 feet — standing. The bill, which was written by Assembly Speaker John A. Perez (D-Los Angeles) and has passed his house by a unanimous vote, seems on paper to be a win for the oil companies, the state treasury, fishermen and even the ocean ecosystem. But like those underwater pilings that could remain in place for centuries, it's what's below the surface that's worrisome.
Oil companies would save an estimated $650 million by leaving the rigs' bases alone. Under the bill, they would get to keep half those savings, with the rest split among the state general fund, a new environmental trust and the counties whose coastlines are closest to the shuttered rigs. The pilings that remain would serve as artificial reefs, continuing to support the community of marine organisms that already inhabit them.