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Renewables And Roller Coasters: How To Recycle An Oil Well

·4 min read

With offshore oil rigs falling into disuse as the oilfield dries up and new developments pop up elsewhere, oil companies are left with a giant structure that they must repurpose or pay huge amounts to decommission and dismount. Now, some countries and private companies are coming up with alternative uses for deserted rigs.

In Saudi Arabia, there are now plans to convert an offshore rig into a 1.6 million-square-foot extreme park, to be known as The Rig, targeted at attracting thousands of tourists. With investment coming 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 would be constructing the “world's first tourism destination inspired by offshore oil platforms.” Tourists will arrive to the new resort, located in the Arabian Gulf, by boat or helicopter.

The development supports the country’s long-term Saudi Vision 2030's strategy, which aims to promote Saudi Arabia as a tourist destination as well as diversifying the national economy beyond its current reliance 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 the many countries and private companies that has been inspired to transform old oil infrastructure to attract tourists or merge different industries. 

Related: Will The Energy Sector Continue To Outperform The Market?

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

Thanks to the scale of the structure, Seaventures is also home to a movie room, a karaoke lounge and bar, pool tables, table tennis, a souvenir shop, and a conference room – it even has wi-fi. But the main pull of the converted rig is the accessibility to extensive coral reefs and nearby Sipadan Island’s national park. 

This is not the only abandoned rig to attract divers, with the long-existing environmentally friendly tradition of converting old rigs to artificial coral reefs. Studies have found that once installed, oil platforms quickly become home to a vast variety of marine life, and removing them can actually be detrimental to the sea environment. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement in the U.S., by September 2020 there were 558 platforms in the Gulf of Mexico that underwent the rigs to reefs conversion, with an eight-leg structure housing 12,000 to 14,000 fish. 

In California, there is even a 2010 law that allows oil firms to leave part of their structure underwater to attract marine life and establish artificial reefs. The opportunity for companies to save money by only partly dismantling their rigs could dissuade them from selling the structures in almost dried-up oil fields to smaller companies hoping to squeeze the last drop, an issue that led to hundreds of bankruptcies during the pandemic

Some are looking to repurpose oil rigs for use in renewable energy production, as is the case in the North Sea. Australian start-up Legacy Global Green Energy (LGGE) is aiming to transform abandoned oil and gas rigs in the U.K. North Sea into geothermal energy plants. LGGE emphasizes the immense cost required to dismantle old rigs, around $64 billion. With an estimated 470 disused rigs 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 decommissioned oil rigs from an offshore site in Brownsville, Texas to be used as a rocket launchpad. In 2020, the company acquired the two rigs from drilling firm Valaris for $3.5 million each, naming them Deimos and Phoibos after the two Mars moons, to repurpose and make fit for the space launch.

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

From luxury theme parks and hotels to environmental protection programs, or for use in the future of space travel, it seems that oil companies, environmental groups, and governments are being inventive in their innovative oil rig transformation strategies, taking their use beyond the original purpose. 

By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com

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