With many of California’s 27 offshore oil and gas platforms approaching decommissioning, much more is at stake than which landfill will hold the scraps from these massive structures. Californians should be very concerned about the thriving artificial reef ecosystems these platforms support and the many species of fish—including the threatened Boccacio— that call them home.

A legislative proposal currently under consideration provides a way to remove the visible portions of the structures while saving the existing reefs below the surface and funding endowments for marine preservation projects up and down the state.

Modeled after successful programs in the Gulf of Mexico, Senate Bill 1, proposed by State Sen. Dede Alpert of San Diego, would allow offshore platforms to be preserved as artificial reefs, on a case-by-case basis, at the end of their lease obligations. The top-portion of the rigs would be removed and the underwater structure would remain in place as a thriving artificial reef.

Since the oil companies would save millions through partial removal, they would be required to donate a substantial portion of their savings to state endowment funds for programs that conserve, preserve, restore and enhance California’s coastal resources. Several studies show that the state’s share of these savings will be $300-$400 million dollars for marine preservation programs at no cost to taxpayers.

Each platform ecosystem is significantly different, so SB 1 also requires an extensive evaluation of each oil platform before its retirement to determine if it can be safely preserved as an artificial reef. It does not mandate that every platform reef be preserved, leaving that decision to the appropriate state and federal permitting agencies.

This legislation cannot wait. The next round of decommissioning is just a few years away. It will take several years to complete the permitting and environmental studies required by SB 1. Every year this legislation is delayed, the more likely it becomes that rigs will be removed completely, killing millions of marine creatures and costing millions of dollars that could have been used for marine preservation projects.

Some of the details of the bill are still being hammered out—how far below the waterline the structures will be cut, establishing the platform reefs sites as “no take” zones, etc.—so input from divers and other interested individuals is important. Contact your elected officials, provide your thoughts on the bill, and most importantly, let them know you support preserving the thriving artificial reefs of California’s offshore platforms.

To find out more about SB 1 or to obtain the contact information for your elected officials, please visit www.preservereefs.org.