ExxonMobil Platform Becomes Tallest Structure Converted to Artificial Reef in the Gulf of Mexico

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement approved the conversion of the Lena compliant tower platform into an artificial reef under the bureau’s Rigs to Reefs program.

Heavy lift crane removing a portion of the platform
Lena, the world’s first cable-stabilized platform, becomes the tallest structure to be converted to an artificial reef in the Gulf of Mexico.
Credit: BSEE.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) approved the conversion of ExxonMobil’s Lena compliant tower platform into an artificial reef under the bureau’s Rigs to Reefs program, and, on 3 July 2020, the platform jacket was toppled in place to create a new reef site in the Gulf of Mexico outer continental shelf. BSEE approved the jacket reefing procedure after reviewing ExxonMobil’s platform removal application. The Lena platform is now the tallest oil and gas platform in the Gulf of Mexico to become a deepwater reef.

“The Rigs to Reefs program is a crucial part of BSEE’s mission,” said BSEE Director Scott Angelle. “It demonstrates how the oil and gas industry and federal and state governments work together to help preserve the marine environment in the Gulf of Mexico.”

BSEE has approved more than 500 Rigs to Reefs projects in the gulf since 1987, with 47 of those just in the last 3 years.

BSEE’s Rigs-to-Reefs program was developed by the Minerals Management Service, BSEE’s predecessor agency, after it became official federal policy in the mid-1980s under the National Artificial Reef Plan. BSEE works with a national consortium of federal and state agencies that seek to convert decommissioned offshore oil and gas platforms jackets into reef material for enhancement of federal and state-endorsed reef sites that support ecosystem development, recreational fishing and diving, and critical research.

“Rigs to Reefs creates a solution out of a problem and delivers a sustainable win/win for the gulf ecosystem and the sportfishing economy,” said Rep. Garret Graves (R-Louisiana). “Turning decommissioned offshore platforms, like the Lena platform, into thriving reef environments is a game changer for the preservation of different species—elevating the fishing industry and the important economic activity that comes with it.”

During the life of a platform, marine organisms attach themselves to the underwater portions of these platforms, which provide shelter for marine life, thus creating new artificial reefs. All coastal states in the US have some type of artificial-reef program, although only the five gulf coast states have oil and gas platform structures as their main reef sources associated with the Rigs to Reefs program.

The Lena platform is approximately 50 miles southeast of Grand Isle, Louisiana, in the Mississippi Canyon Area, Block 280. It was the world’s first cable-stabilized production platform in the gulf, installed in 1983 in 1,000 ft of water. The structure was originally 1,078 ft tall and weighed 27,000 tons. With the decks and drilling rig added, the Lena stood 1,300 ft tall, 50 feet higher than the Empire State Building. It was productive for 35 years, generating revenue from oil and natural gas sales through 2016. Its decommissioning began in 2017.

BSEE and ExxonMobil have been working with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) on the decommissioning and proposed reefing of the Lena platform for more than 5 years. The LDWF will be the manager and owner of the Lena platform jacket after the site has been surveyed and cleared, most likely in early 2021.

“We’re proud of our partnerships with BSEE and LDWF and our commitment to protect and preserve the environments in which we operate,” said Keith Matocha, decommissioning project manager at ExxonMobil. “As an artificial reef, the Lena will benefit the environment by continuing to provide habitats for rare Gulf of Mexico deepwater coral and various encrusting organisms that attract fish and other marine life found on natural reefs.”