Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Diving the Oil Rigs

Eureka Oil Rig
There are currently 27 rigs off the shores of California… After 9/11, majority of the rigs were closed to the public for security reasons. Lucky for me, a quick boat ride from San Pedro marina will get me to three rigs that are still open for divers: Eureka, Elly, and Ellen (Elly and Ellen are twin rigs connected to each other). Oil rig dives are consider advance dives due to deep bottoms up to 1000 feet making it virtually bottomless and all boats servicing these dives are live boats. Being able to maintain neutral buoyancy on these dives is extremely important for these types of dives. The legs of the rig are completely covered with life surrounded by bountiful amounts of fish swirling about. Most rig legs will have to be periodically maintained and cleaned so they are scrapped leaving it barren and over time life will start growing on it again. Before we take a look at the dives, let’s look about the oil rigs themselves.

Drilling for oil has always been a controversial topic pushing and pulling between the needs for energy and environmental protection. Fuel prices goes up, drilling becomes acceptable. Accidents like the Deepwater Horizon occurs, drilling looks heinous. California suffered its own disaster. In 1969, Union Oil’s platform off Santa Barbara suffered a similar fate to the Horizon spewing massive amounts of raw oil and natural gas polluting the coast lines killing of tons of wildlife. To this day, this 1969 disaster ranks number three worst oil spill in the United States. This quickly prompted bans on new drilling and a campaign against oil platforms. In recently years, the idea of opening up the coast of California to oil drilling again is becoming more favorable with the rising cost of fuel. Excluding the disastrous effects of an oil spill the question remains on what really is the impact of an oil rig on the environment around it?

Though studies have been conducted such as the one done by Chris Lowe (CSULB), I did notice that theses studies were often commission by the oil companies operating the platforms. Such studies  suggest the water quality around the drill is clean and for those who have the pleasure of fishing, hunting, or gathering around the rigs, the sea life are safe to eat. Most studies were focused on these structures and the homes they provided for oceanic life. Any divers can tell you, the legs of these platforms serve very well as artificial reefs. Wells are not forever and eventually will dry up and be decommission. Oil companies were originally required to break apart and recycle these platforms but in recent years there has been a move to keep these rigs.

For a rig to be dismantled and recycled the legs that are connected to the seafloor will have to be broken, usually by means of explosive. The noise and shock wave created by this will most likely kill the life growing in the vicinity of the rig. The idea of keeping the legs of the rigs in place after the well has dried is gaining traction. The platform will be removed and recycled leaving the legs and either the top will be cut down or the whole structure be pushed over so not to create a shallow hazard for boats. In some areas, these platform and rigs remain in place all together. The platforms that once housed a city of engineer and workers to operate the drill were converted to divers’ paradise and resorts.

I had the opportunity to dive the Eureka rig on the Pacific Star. It was my first time doing an oil rig and I have to admit, it was fabulous with visibility that day easily around 60-70 feet! I was overall an amazing experience. I look forward to many more dives on oil rigs.

For the rest of the pictures from this dive, you can visit our Facebook page.

Written by: Wayne Lu, Jul 4, 2012


1969 Santa Barbara oil spill

Fate of oil rigs,8599,2002509,00.html

Oil drilling and regulations

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