BRIGGS: The Reef Fund Dollars Are A Casualty Of Budget Woes

With the Louisiana state legislative session now in full swing, dollars get added and dollars get stripped from both good and bad funds. One good fund that is facing having its funds stripped is the Artificial Reef Development Fund (ARDF), founded some 25 years ago.

The Louisiana legislators have voted to remove, over the coming fiscal years, some $26 million from the reef fund. These constitutionally dedicated dollars help to convert decommissioned oilrigs into reefs for aquatic purposes. Oil and gas companies pay into this reef fund to increase the fish presence for recreational purposes, to promote ecological research and to offset the dollars that it cost oil and gas companies to remove decommissioned rigs. Decommissioning a rig, independent of the reef fund, can cost nearly four million dollars. The Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, thanks to the reef fund, have constructed over 60 offshore reefs from nearly 270 oil platforms.

As of the beginning of this current fiscal year, the reef fund had diminished to around 6 million dollars. As of today, around 12 million dollars is in the fund, but as dollars are removed from the reef fund and added back into the general fund to help with state budget cuts, there will be no dollars left for the ARDF organization to operate. To date, over 46 million dollars have been stripped from this constitutionally protected fund.

Through years of research, the Minerals Management Service discovered a great link between the rigs and the aquamarine community. Fish and aquatic wildlife of many different species make their home deep beneath the water’s surface around the structure of these offshore rigs. Fishermen, scuba divers and the coastal communities surrounding the Gulf of Mexico have long lobbied the oil and gas community and the federal government to not remove the obsolete or non-productive platforms. The fishermen have found that some of the best catches can be found near these rigs. Scuba divers, like the fisherman, claim that the most colorful dives can be had at these older rig sights due to the structure becoming an artificial reef.

Whether the aquatic life is preserved, better fishing is made available or the oil and gas industry is able to save millions of dollars, the program is essential to the state of Louisiana. It is no secret that the state budget is facing a shortfall, but using dedicated dollars funded by the oil and gas industry is problematic for those oil and gas companies paying into the fund. Removing the reef fund dollars feels more like a tax on the oil and gas industry.

While converting rigs into reefs is vital to the oil and gas industry and the gulf coast fishing and tourism sector, if the funds are not available to operate the program, a larger problem exists. In order for the state of Louisiana to remain economically competitive, it is vital that funds like the Artificial Reef Development Fund are kept in place.

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