Big Oil Cares About The Ocean

The Mineral Management Service under the Bush Administration is running wild on the PR campaign about the benefits of deep-sea oil platforms. Thanks to Scientific American and Reuters the MMS and big oil are getting some good press.

Deep-sea oil platforms may aid sea life: study HOUSTON (Reuters) – Deep-water oil and natural gas platforms may become be as beneficial as a federal study has shown shipwrecks to be in creating habitats for undersea plants and animals, the U.S. Minerals Management Service said on Thursday. “The biological analyses conducted during this investigation concluded that as petroleum exploration and production expands into deeper Gulf water, platforms could potentially provide a habitat for marine life,” Lars Herbst, acting MMS Gulf region director, said in a statement. Since offshore drilling began in the Gulf of Mexico after World War II, exploration has moved farther south from the U.S. coastline and into sea depths of thousands of feet.

Note the phrasing here could potentially provide a habitat for marine life.  A debate ensued when artificial reefs became an excuse to litter the ocean with litter.  Do artificial reefs increase fish prodution (i.e. increases in birth and/or growth rate) or do they merely concentrate available biomass (i.e pull individuals from other areas)? Largely the consensus has been that the latter, concentrating available biomass so it is not likely oil rigs are going to be a benefit to marine ecoystems.

From Bohnsack (1989)…

Rapid colonization, high fish densities, and high catch rates at artificial reefs have been used as evidence for habitat-limitation and increased production of reef fishes. An alternative hypothesis is that artificial reefs attract fishes due to behavioral preferences but do not increase reef fish production or abundance. Reviewed literature reveals that except in one case evidence for increased production is mostly anecdotal and inadequate.

From Grossman et al. 1997…

the literature contained few studies that unambiguously demonstrated that artificial reefs increased regional fish production rather than merely concentrated available biomass

Dr. M (1801 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Executive Director of the Lousiana University Marine Consortium. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Additionally, Craig is obsessed with the size of things. Sometimes this translated into actually scientific research. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (http://deepseanews.com/), a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web.