Deep water offshore oil and gas platforms can lead double lives from the time when drilling begins to after the wells are depleted and oil and gas production shut down. Platforms house the people and equipment to drill the well s and produce oil and gas 100 miles or more offshore in ocean depths of more than one mile. In addition they enable scientists to study deep-sea life and their habitats. Unlike using research vessels, offshore platforms enable scientists to study the same marine habitats over long periods of time.
For example, the relationship between Chevron and scientists begins long before a platform is built, when remote operated vehicles (ROVs) roam the soft, loose sedimentary base of the Gulf of Mexico to locate and survey places to drill. Oil companies use ROVs to locate “chemosynthetic communities:” organisms that live around natural oil or gas seeps, in order to avoid drilling in their habitat. At the same time, these seeps often indicate oil and natural gas deposits deep below the ocean floor.
ROVs are used for maintenance and repairs throughout the life of deepwater production platforms. The platforms also provide a base for ROVs to study deep water biological communities over very long periods of time, something far more difficult when using oceanographic research ships. Buying their own deepwater ROVs would be very costly for scientists to do on their own.
The trend to producing oil and gas using platforms placed in ever deeper water is an incentive to this marine biology research. New species have been identified and captured on film and their behavior studied.
Scientists are not just interested in what goes on at the bottom of the sea; they also conduct research closer to the surface. Here, too, oil production platforms play a role.
While oil companies such as Chevron may not provide the scientists with funds, they may provide support in the form of the services of ROVs and their operators in conducting observations, transportation to and from platforms, food and shelter.
It is not just scientists who are drawn to the platforms' promise of food and shelter. Many of the estimated 4,000 platforms and other offshore petroleum industry structures in the Gulf of Mexico are more than thirty years old and have become a resource to all kinds of marine life. In deeper water, these ecosystems are like artificial reefs with all kinds of organisms clinging to the submerged poritons of the structure. The more organisms that grow on the structure, the more attractive it becomes to other fish and other creatures that might feed on those organisms, use the habitat as shelter or to lay eggs. All the kinds of things that happen on a natural reef happen on platforms on a smaller scale.
These underwater habitats, in turn, attract not only scientists but also divers and fisherman. The problem is when a platform has ceased production, oil companies are legally required to remove them, which means disrupting the thriving ecosystems. However, programs established in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi allow energy companies to donate old structures to the state. This includes giving the state a large portion of the money that would have been spent hauling, dismantling, and disposing of the platform. The funds are deposited in a trust fund dedicated to maintaining, mapping and placing navigation aids on platforms ensuring that they continue to provide a home for a variety of species in the Gulf, ocean currents, seawater chemistry and climate.