How to recycle an oil well

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With offshore oil rigs falling into disuse as the oil field dries up and new developments appear elsewhere, oil companies are left with a giant structure that they have to reuse or pay huge sums of money for decommissioning and disassembly. Today, some countries and private companies are offering alternative uses for abandoned platforms.

In Saudi Arabia, there are now plans to convert an offshore platform into a 1.6 million square foot extreme park, known as The Rig, intended to attract thousands of tourists. With investments from the National Public Investment Fund, the massive structure will house three hotels offering 800 rooms, 11 restaurants, roller coasters and other rides, adventure activities – such as ziplines and water sports.

Saudi Arabia announced this week that it will build the “world’s first tourist destination inspired by offshore oil rigs.” Tourists will arrive at the new resort, located in the Persian Gulf, by boat or helicopter.

The development supports the country’s long-term strategy Saudi Vision 2030, which aims to promote Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination as well as diversify the national economy beyond its current dependence on oil and gas. Saudi Arabia hopes to attract 100 million tourists a year by 2030, supported by the launch of a second national airline and a $ 147 billion investment in transport and logistics.

Saudi Arabia is just one of many countries and private companies that have been inspired to transform old oil infrastructure to attract tourists or to merge different industries.

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In the 1990s, architects transformed an abandoned oil rig into a 25-room hotel. Originally located in the Gulf of Mexico, the platform was transported to the Celebes Sea in the western Pacific Ocean off the coast of Indonesia to undergo its transformation. The Seaventures Dive Resort primarily attracts scuba divers and snorkelers, who can stay at the hotel between their adventures.

Thanks to the scale of the structure, Seaventures also houses a cinema room, karaoke lounge and bar, pool tables, ping-pong table, souvenir shop and conference room – it even has wi-fi. But the main attraction of the converted platform is accessibility to the vast coral reefs and the nearby Sipadan Island National Park.

It’s not the only abandoned platform attracting divers, with the long-standing eco-friendly tradition of converting old platforms into artificial coral reefs. Studies have shown that once installed, oil rigs quickly harbor a wide variety of marine life, and their removal can actually be detrimental to the marine environment. According to the United States Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, as of September 2020, there were 558 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico that have undergone rig conversion to reefs, with an eight-legged structure housing 12,000 to 14,000 fish.

In California, there is even a 2010 law that allows oil companies to leave part of their structure underwater to attract marine life and establish artificial reefs. The possibility for companies to save money by only partially dismantling their rigs could deter them from selling the structures in near-dry oil fields to smaller companies in the hope of squeezing the last straw, an problem that led to hundreds of bankruptcies during the pandemic.

Some are looking to reuse oil platforms for use in the production of renewable energy, as is the case in the North Sea. Australian start-up Legacy Global Green Energy (LGGE) aims to turn abandoned oil and gas platforms in the UK North Sea into geothermal power plants. LGGE points out the immense cost required to dismantle the old platforms, around $ 64 billion. With around 470 decommissioned platforms in the region, the company believes the conversion could help cut costs and support green policy.

Going in a different direction, earlier this year, Elon Musk’s SpaceX purchased two disused oil rigs from an offshore site in Brownsville, Texas, to use as a rocket launch pad. In 2020, the company acquired the two rigs from drilling company Valaris for $ 3.5 million each, naming them Deimos and Phoibos after the two moons of Mars, to reuse them and adapt them for space launch. .

Although it seemed like a new idea when it was first announced, the industry has been using oil rigs in space programs for years. Between the 1960s and 1980s, the Luigi Broglio Space Center used a converted offshore oil rig in Kenya to launch payloads into space. Sea Launch has carried out similar activities on the Ocean Odyssey, a decommissioned drilling rig, which was based near satellite, aerospace and maritime supply companies in California, and is now located in Russia.

From theme parks and luxury hotels to environmental protection programs, or for use in the future of space travel, it seems that oil companies, environmental groups and governments are inventive in their innovative strategies for transformation. oil rigs, going beyond the initial objective. .

By Felicity Bradstock for Oil Octobers

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