West Coast
The workshop was put together by the Orange County Coastkeeper and the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program, to discuss and examine the way forward for decommissioning in Orange County. California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program

CA - Orange County Coastal Keepers Host Workshop to Decommission Oil Rigs off the Coast

The workshop was an all-day affair with talks from lawmakers, industry experts, and various stakeholders.

NEWPORT BEACH⸺ On April 21, Orange County Coastkeeper and the California Artificial Reef Enhancement Program hosted an all-day workshop to discuss and hammer out a potential plan to remove offshore oil rigs off the coast of Orange County.

Spurred forward by the 2021 Huntington Beach oil spill and the logistical issues surrounding the decommissioning of Platform Holly in Santa Barbara, OC Coastkeeper and CARE created a workshop to discuss the path forward for Orange County.

“It is easy to have the oil platforms fade into the background a bit,” said Lauren Chase, staff attorney for Coastkeeper. “You are used to seeing them, and they are there, and you don’t give them much thought. And when you have something like a spill, it is a pretty tangible stark reminder of what’s going on out there, and I feel like the more questions I ask, the more questions I have about offshore oil production and the process. We have some platforms that are over 50 years old offshore in Orange County, so when the spill happened, it raised a lot of questions.”

The workshop had several speakers and stakeholders who gathered to find a way forward to remove the oil rigs off the coast. Speakers covered an overview of the decommissioning process, the biological impacts, government oversight, decommissioning logistics, and stakeholder interest.

“We want to leave today… with a real idea of direct steps we can take to push the ball forward on this issue, so that is kind of the idea behind this roundtable workshop discussion,” said Chase. “Where we have two state lawmakers and regulator and other stakeholders to just sit and chat together, and after everything we’ve heard in the day so far, try to identify some concrete steps and pathways forward.”

In a 2019 document titled “A Citizen’s Guide to Offshore Oil and Gas Decommissioning in Federal Waters Off California,” an interagency decommissioning working group made up of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, and the California State Lands Commission laid out three scenarios for decommissioning oil rigs off the coast.

The first scenario would be to remove all existing infrastructure and equipment from the area and attempt to restore the area to its natural state.

Complete removal was the original contemplation when the leases were issued. All the oil rigs are built on parcels of land leased by the California State Lands Commission or the Department of the Interior.

The scenario would largely return the space to the way it was before, but the added expense could fall back on the taxpayers and the state if operators fall through, as it did with platform Holly.

The second scenario offers to turn the rigs into reefs. Operators could donate the rig rather than scrapping it, and the rigs could serve as artificial reefs under the National Artificial Reef Plan.

The structures would be toppled or partially removed and towed to other reef sites as artificial habitats for ocean creatures.

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