Public Concern Grows Over Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig Removals

oil rig ecoystem

oil rig ecoystem

Oil rigs support rich, diverse, reef-based ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico.Jesse Cancelmo

Influential voices in Washington D.C. continue to weigh in on the issue of imminent removal of hundreds of decommissioned oil rigs from the Gulf of Mexico, per a Department of the Interior ruling.

This morning, Rep. Steven Palazzo (R-Miss.) presented concerns of the recreational-angling community over the DOI's controversial "idle iron" policy at a briefing hosted by the Congressional Sportsmen's Foundation. Palazzo closed by inviting fellow congressmen to sign onto a letter requesting a moratorium on rig removals.

Yesterday, Thom Dammrich — chairman of the Sport Fishing & Boating Partnership Council — in a letter to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar expressed similar concerns about Salazar's idle-iron policy. This is particularly noteworthy since that council is appointed by the Secretary of the Interior to advise DOI on policies affecting fishery resources and fishing/boating industries.

Dammrich says the 18-member committee fears the blanket policy on removing rigs may threaten habitat and important marine ecosystems, and impact federal rebuilding plans for red snapper, grouper and other economically valuable species. “We respectfully request a two-year moratorium on the implementation of Idle Iron Policy... .”

All of this follows in the wake of Sen. David Vitter's legislation to protect these structures, in his Rigs-to-Reefs Bill, the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council working to list these rigs as Essential Fish Habitat, other elected officials calling on Salazar for a moratorium, and a sweeping coalition also expressing the need for a halt in the idle iron policy.

Now, as Palazzo’s letter gathers signatures — and that will happen — it will grow more and more difficult for an intransigent Interior Department to keep blowing off mounting public concerns over its misguided directive. At some point, DOI will have to answer for its idle-iron mandate. At some point, enough critics will justify some explanation. I suspect that time is coming.

While getting DOI to offer any explanation for its flawed policy will be a victory of sorts, it’s one battle and not_ le guerre_. We have a long way to go for that to happen, and time is short. We'll try to keep you informed of developments as we watch things unfold — with fingers crossed.