Repurposing Abandoned Oil Rigs

offshore oil rig

As oil operations wind down in several depleted oilfields, energy companies are looking for ways to repurpose old infrastructure to cut costs and support environmental efforts. It is extremely expensive to disassemble and transport old oil rigs, meaning that many companies have sought out alternative uses for the structures in recent years. Further, governments and environmentalists have been putting increasing pressure on oil and gas firms to reduce their impact on the environment. This has led energy companies in the U.S. to invest in transforming their old infrastructure into offshore wind farms, coral reefs, and mobile defense systems, to name a few transformations. 

The Situation

There are around 12,000 offshore oil and gas platforms worldwide and many of them are reaching the end of their lives. While decommissioning rigs safely and sustainably is complicated, it is vital. There are four conventional ways to decommission a platform; they can be partially or completely removed; rigs can be moved elsewhere; they can be abandoned in the deep sea, or they can be toppled and left on the sea floor. 

Many companies now choose to dismantle and transport their rigs to a site where they can assess the materials for recycling and reuse. Over 90% of some structures can be reused or recycled in some cases. However, this option is costly and logistically complicated. For that reason, many companies are seeking alternative methods of disposal. 


Companies are exploring innovative ways to transform their old oil and gas infrastructure, rather than paying for it to be taken apart and disposed of. This can help energy firms to both cut costs and reduce waste. 

Offshore Wind 

There are several benefits to repurposing oil and gas infrastructure, such as the potential to use existing cables, communications infrastructure, and other technologies without the need to build a new structure from scratch. This has led many oil and gas companies to enter joint partnerships with wind energy firms to support the development of offshore wind farms located around out-of-use platforms. 

One analysis reported, “It is estimated that approximately one-third of the total life costs (operation, maintenance, and service costs) of an offshore wind project can be favorably impacted upon by significant synergies with the O&G supply chain, by making it possible to electrify O&G offshore operations by installing wind farms nearby or by means of floating turbines, thus reducing the need to operate diesel or gas generators on the platform, reducing GHG emissions and air pollutants, and facilitating the energy transition, with platforms providing bases for wind farms.” 

Coral Reefs 

One idea that is winning the favor of environmentalists is the conversion of old platforms into coral reefs. While oil and gas companies don’t make a profit from this approach, they can significantly reduce the costs associated with dismantling and transporting the infrastructure for decommissioning.  

The Rigs-to-Reefs program forms part of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) Environmental Compliance Program. BSEE works to transform decommissioned rigs into artificial reefs. Platforms that have been situated in the sea for several decades eventually become habitats for marine life, and removing the structures can disrupt these habitats, which demonstrates the value of keeping these rigs safely in place. 

By 2021, over 600 platforms had been converted into permanent artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. A typical eight-legged structure can provide a habitat for between 12,000 and 14,000 fish, while a four-legged rig can provide two to three acres of habitat for hundreds of marine species. 

Mobile Defense Systems 

Another use that is growing in popularity for old oil and gas platforms is mobile defense systems. The U.S. Navy unveiled a new initiative at the Sea Air Space 2024 expo – the Mobile Defense/Depot Platform (MODEP). The scheme aims to address security challenges in the Pacific Ocean by transforming old oil platforms into mobile missile defense and resupply bases. 

The idea was developed by the engineering company Gibbs & Cox. Disused rigs could become large, self-sufficient island bases that can be strategically positioned and operated for up to 12 months at a time. Alternatively, they can be used as Afloat Forward Staging Bases, which provide logistical support for U.S. Navy surface combatants and nuclear submarines. These innovative bases are expected to help reduce the risks and costs associated with land-based defense systems. Transforming old rigs is also much cheaper than developing new Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) systems, reducing costs by around 90%. 

Finding ways to repurpose disused oil rigs can help oil and gas companies cut costs by huge amounts, as well as support the development of infrastructure for other industries. The transformation of platforms can help wind energy companies to produce clean energy offshore power, provide habitats to thousands of marine species and boost national security, thanks to the development of several innovative projects. Other companies have used old platforms to create adventure parks and diving centers, as well as for many other alternative uses. 

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