More than 3,000 petroleum platforms stand in the Gulf and about 100 are decommissioned each year. They are usually towed ashore and salvaged, displacing the marine life established during its active use.
Since the Artificial Reef Program began in 1990, more than 140 offshore drilling rigs have been donated by cooperating oil and gas companies. Currently, the program receives 50 percent of an oil company's savings from converting the rig to a permanent reef rather than taking the structure to shore for salvaging. (Federal law requires decommissioned structures to be removed if they do not participate in this program.) The funds earned by accepting the rig into the program help finance research, administration, maintenance, liability and construction of new artificial reefs. They also make the Texas Artificial Reef Program self-sufficient, with little need for taxpayer dollars.
Where are the Reefed Rigs?
Reefed rig structures may be a few miles from shore or almost 100 miles from shore, in waters ranging from 50 to over 300 feet deep. The most accessible artificial reef sites for divers and fishermen are located 6 to 30 miles from major Gulf ports. The majority of them remain far offshore in an Outer Continental Block area called High Island General Permit Area, an area in federal waters with established reefing guidelines developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and TPWD.
General Permit Area Guidelines
The Gulf accounts for 80% of all shrimp harvested,
62% of all oysters harvested and more than 1.4 billion pounds
of annual seafood production.
More than 140 petroleum platforms—with more on the way—have found new purpose as marine habitat in the Texas Artificial Reef Program.
Texas boasts 66 artificial reef sites ranging from 5 to 100 miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico—that’s 3,440 acres of prime fishing and diving adventure.
Seven reef sites within nine nautical miles of shore serve as accessible nearshore fishing and diving opportunities.
Red snapper, the most popular game fish in Texas Gulf waters, thrive around artificial reef sites. Scientific divers see red snapper at TPWD artificial reef sites during four of every ten visits to these locations.
With a few exceptions, the floor of the Gulf of Mexico is flat and bare except for artificial reef sites. Nearly 200 marine fish species have been seen on these complex, stable, and durable habitats among artificial reef structures.
Sixteen of 23 U.S. coastal states (or 70 percent) maintain artificial reef programs.
The Texas Clipper ship reef off South Padre Island generates more than $1 million for the local economy from anglers and $1.4–$2 million from divers. Anglers spend on average $460 per fishing trip, while divers spend upwards of $2,000 per dive.
Thirteen ships have been intentionally sunk as part of the Texas Artificial Reef Program, the largest being the USTS Texas Clipper. She’s 473 feet long—that’s 1.5 times the length of a football field.