Oil platforms seek new role

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The Independent Online
More than 30 oil companies are meeting today in Brussels to hear a scientific study commissioned by a lobbying group which they fund - the Offshore Decommissioning Communications Project - to see whether old offshore oil platforms could be turned into artificial reefs to encourage fish population growth.

The move is clearly a response to the Brent Spar debacle of summer 1995, when Shell was forced to change its plans to sink an old oil tank in the northeastern Atlantic by direct action by the environment pressure group Greenpeace, and consumer boycotts of its petrol stations. Since then, oil companies have been looking for publicly acceptable arguments for sinking platforms. Towing the larger structures - about 180 of them - back to land and disposing of them there, as Greenpeace suggests they should, would be enormously costly, probably running into millions for each platform. But the companies are not mentioning that. They are arguing that recycling the structures on land might use more energy than it saves.

For the oil companies, sinking the huge concrete and steel structures, which can be as tall as the Eiffel Tower and weigh five times as much, would be the ideal solution to their disposal problem. Two British and two Scandinavian scientists have therefore studied the use of artificial reefs around the world. However, artificial reefs would not solve the North Sea's most pressing crisis - the collapse of cod stocks. Cod are migratory fish which travel huge distances to feed and spawn. Any reefs would be largely unimportant to their life cycle.