Offshore Oil Rig Decommissioning and Rigs-to-Reefs Programs in the Gulf of Mexico: Addressing Decommissioning Challenges Using a Multi-Criteria Approach


The goal of this study is to determine the reasoning behind idle offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, discussing the role of rigs-to-reefs, cost estimation and financial bonding requirements, and how a multi-criteria decision analysis approach may address these complex issues.

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in April of 2010, coupled with a recent surge of storms coming into the region, the United States federal government became very concerned about oil rig platforms being left idle in the Gulf of Mexico, from a safety, environmental and navigational perspective. What followed was the release of the federal ‘Idle Iron’ policy in October of 2010, shedding light on over 3,000 wells and over 600 platform structures sitting ‘idle’ in Gulf Coast waters. By law and reinforced by the leasing contract between the federal government and the operator, all structures are supposed to be removed. These figures have triggered a heightened interest in rigs-to-reefs programs, and has made the goal of this study to determine the reasoning behind the idle iron list. Furthermore, recent communication with federal regulatory agencies determined that requirements for cost estimation are placing pressure on the federal government to potentially cover decommissioning costs at the conclusion of the lease contract.

Research objectives include:

  1. What the most effective role is for rigs-to-reef programs to play in addressing the idle iron list.
  2. How current legal matters, policies, and financial issues are inhibiting successful structural removal procedures, and how these issues are affecting rigs-to-reefs programs.
  3. The implementation of a multi-criteria decision analysis approach applied to specific platforms, to provide transparency among stakeholders and guidance to the federal government when faced with various decommissioning options. 

The research will also include a review of the United States decommissioning strategy, incorporating international perspectives and global case studies from Australia, Norway, and the Asia-Pacific region. Expected achievements in data collection and analysis include insight into how to update federal and state policies to assist decommissioning process efficiency moving forward.