The sea around oil and gas platforms often brims with life, with room for endangered and exotic species. However, under current regulations obsolete platforms are always completely dismantled without considering their positive ecological effects. Environmental experts are therefore arguing in favour of policy reform.
This is evidenced by a survey of international environmental experts from universities, governments and industries, co-authored by researchers from Wageningen University & Research. In this survey, almost 95% of the experts indicate that it is better to examine each platform independently to see whether or not it should be removed. In the coming decades, decisions will be taken on more than 7,500 obsolete oil and gas platforms worldwide.
‘Policy is currently still very rigid,’ states Joop Coolen, researcher at Wageningen Marine Research. ‘This has a great deal to do with the outdated knowledge on which these regulations are based. We now know much more about the positive effects that these platforms can have on the environment, and this needs to be taken into account when making a decision.’
Oil and gas platforms can also be partially dismantled and many environmental experts, such as specialists in marine ecology, see this as an ecologically better option. ‘This allows us to preserve the life that has made these platforms their home,’ explains Coolen.
Nature grabs human-made opportunities
Oil and gas platforms, as well as wind farms, often develop into artificial reefs brimming with biodiversity. These platforms simply become a part of the ecosystem. ‘All kinds of old and new species flourish in the vicinity of these types of structures,' says Tinka Murk, Professor of Marine Animal Ecology at Wageningen University & Research. For example, they form a place for overfished fish species to reproduce safely. ‘Cod, crayfish or edible crabs are not found on bare sandy soils.’
‘Nature will grab any opportunity to flourish, including human-made ones,’ explains Murk. ‘We must, of course, ensure that no risks are created with toxic substances. But let's not just remove such an artificial reef just because it has been erected by us.’ She hopes that the results of the survey will nuance the idea that only the oil and gas industry is benefiting from the partial dismantling of oil platforms.
A flourishing North Sea
With more than a hundred small oil and gas platforms and wind farms, the Netherlands is also faced with these choices. ‘The newly planned Brossele wind farm will be nature-inclusive,' says Coolen, 'but under the current regulations this too will simply be removed after thirty years'. Coolen sees a contradiction in this policy, which only partially takes into account the effects on the environment. Partial dismantling may also be a solution here.
Murk, in turn, hopes that more experimentation will take place in the Netherlands with new types of structures in the sea, such as the foundations of wind farms. ‘Can't we create smart designs that bring back nature that can only be found around wrecks? If we do this, we can positively use human activity to enrich the North Sea.’