Seafood lovers might have reason to thank the oil and gas industry when they chow down on red snapper. Decommissioned oil and gas rigs are not only supporting the growth of artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), they are also providing “fish homes” for a variety of species. And red snapper, in particular, seem to love living around these structures in the western GoM, according to the results of a study released recently by Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute (HRI) for Gulf of Mexico Studies. HRI found that more than 50 fish species from 18 families in the GoM rely on the decommissioned rigs. The species were identified at 13 sites in Texas surveyed near Port O’Connor, Port Aransas, and Port Mansfield. “There’s a lot of evidence that the red snapper populations we see today wouldn’t be here if we didn’t have all of these converted oil and gas platforms,” Greg Stunz, director of the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation, said in a press release about the research findings. “Red snapper is the most economically important fish in the [GoM].” In addition to supporting fish populations, Stunz said artificial reefs near the decommissioned rigs have lured both commercial and recreational fisherman as well as divers, bringing benefits to Gulf Coast economies. The data was collected as part of the HRI’s South Texas Artificial Reef Monitoring program. This program and Rigs-to-Reefs government policy, which allows nonproductive offshore oil and gas platforms to be used as artificial reefs, have proven to be beneficial to marine habitats and deserves further study, which is what HRI plans to do. “Up until now, there has been very little evidence for what’s happening on artificial reefs on this side of the [GoM],” Matt Ajemian, assistant research scientist and co-principal investigator, said in the release. “One of our major upcoming projects will be to set up an array of acoustic receivers at different artificial reefs and track fish movements among them to determine the types of reefs these animals prefer to live on.” Thanks to grants of US $600,000 from the Texas Parks and Wildlife and $50,000 from the Fondren Foundation, HRI’s Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation plans to monitor western GoM sites and track the amount and types of marine life that create homes around the reefs, according to the press release. Data will be used to help determine which “fish home” characteristics are best suited to become habitats for each type of fish. The center also plans to research the long-term effects of keeping the rigs in the GoM. A long-term strategy also should be created to determine how many rigs are needed or desired in this part of the GoM to help keep fish populations thriving. Stunz, principal investigator for a recently awarded grant, pointed out that there are about 4,000 decommissioned rigs in the GoM; however, about 75% will be gone in the next 20 years. “So we are very concerned that we get these rigs into reef programs so that they continue producing fish,” he said. Contact the author, Velda Addison, at email@example.com.
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