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Open Access Decommissioning impacts on biotic assemblages associated with shell mounds beneath southern California offshore oil and gas platforms

The decommissioning of southern California offshore oil and gas platforms will create major economic, engineering, and environmental challenges in the next decade. Platform jackets, conductors, and shell mounds often host a diverse and productive marine community, and among the myriad considerations associated with decommissioning planning, platform operators and federal and state regulatory agencies will consider the ecological value of existing underwater structures as artificial reefs. In the event of partial removal of platform structure, fish assemblages on decommissioned platforms may remain unchanged in areas where structure is left intact. However, on the seafloor beneath the platforms, a mound of debris often called the shell mound will likely change over time if the supply of falling mussels and other organisms from the productive surface part of the structure is removed. In this study, we review shell mound research relevant to decommissioning, including mound formation, contaminant loads, associated biological communities, and transitions following the removal of platform structures at four sites. To address the gap in knowledge of shell mound fish community structure, we used manned submersible and remotely operated vehicle surveys from 1997 to 2013 to estimate the biomass, density, species composition and similarity between shell mounds at 22 southern California platforms. We found a wide range of variability in fish density and shell mound areal extent. Species composition also varied among sites, with three significant community clusters primarily distinguished by species depth preferences. These results will help inform a comprehensive net environmental benefit analysis of southern California offshore platform decommissioning alternatives.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106;, Email: [email protected] 2: Marine Science Institute, University of California, Santa Barbara, California 93106 3: Biological Sciences Department, California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, California 91768 4: US Department of the Interior, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Camarillo, California 93010

Publication date: October 1, 2019

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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