Forecasting the legacy of offshore oil and gas platforms on fish community structure and productivity
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Forecasting the legacy of offshore oil and gas platforms on fish community structure and productivity

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  • Journal Title:
    Ecological Applications
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    There are currently thousands of offshore platforms in place for oil and gas extraction worldwide, and decommissioning efforts over the next three decades are estimated to cost more than US$200 billion. As platforms reach the end of their useful lifetime, operators and regulatory agencies will assess the environmental impact of potential decommissioning strategies. Among the many factors that will be weighed in preparation for these major economic and engineering challenges is the fate of the fish and invertebrate communities that inhabit the structures underwater. Offshore platforms act as inadvertent artificial reefs, and some are recognized among the most productive fish habitats in the global oceans. We present a model for forecasting changes to fish communities surrounding offshore installations following a series of decommissioning alternatives. Using 24 platforms off southern California, we estimate fish biomass and somatic production under three possible decommissioning scenarios: leave in place, partial removal at 26‐m depth, and complete removal of the platform and underlying shell mound. We used fish density and size data from scuba and submersible surveys of the platforms from 1995–2013 to estimate biomass and annual somatic production. Bottom trawl surveys were used to characterize future fish assemblages at platform sites under the complete‐removal decommissioning scenario. Based on a conservatively modeled extrapolation of the survey data, we found that complete removal of a platform resulted in 95% or more reduction in the average fish biomass and annual somatic production at the site, while partial removal resulted in far smaller losses, averaging 10% or less. In the event that all surveyed platforms are completely removed, we estimated a total loss of more than 28,000 kg of fish biomass in the Southern California Bight. Platform habitats, which attract reef‐dwelling fish species, had minimal overlap in community composition with the surrounding soft‐bottom habitat. To best serve the wide range of stakeholder interests, the site‐specific biomass, productivity and species composition information provided in this study should be incorporated into strategic decommissioning planning. This approach could be used as a model for informing “rigs to reefs” discussions occurring worldwide.
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    Ecological Applications, 30(8)
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    Accepted Manuscript
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