Fish farming offers second life for unwanted oil rigs


Norwegian offshore services company Roxel has come up with a plan to convert drilling platforms into ocean farms – and then back again if demand for oil and gas exploration picks up.

“There are many rigs that aren’t being used,” said Roxel’s managing director, Dag Meling. “The beauty of our system is that it doesn’t destroy the asset.”

The conversions will include the removal of the derrick from the rig, replacing it with a fish processing module that will be built on land. Such a modular system makes it easy to reverse the conversions, said Meling. The company aims to farm North Atlantic salmon and trout off the coast of Norway by converting jack-up rigs, which can be towed between locations where they are fixed to the seabed. These rigs are more stable than floating platforms, hence better suited to aquaculture, said Meling.

The rigs will be used to store feed for the farmed fish. The feed is pumped into the fish ponds from where grown fish are lifted onto the rig for counting, washing and delousing. By going offshore, away from the fjords and coastal areas where space is scarce, it will be possible to build fish farms that produce 10,000-15,000 tonnes per year, said Meling.

Aquaculture has become increasingly important for the Norwegian economy, ever since the country’s export earnings were hit by the weaker global oil price, currently trading at about $50 a barrel – less than half its value three years ago. Fewer and fewer oil rigs are being used, in part because of obsolescence, but also because of a shift away from fossil fuels towards renewable sources of energy. The North Sea alone has more than 550 platforms, and nearly all will be decommissioned in the next 30 years.

But it’s not just Norway that’s benefiting – aquaculture is important for the rest of the world too. “Fisheries and aquaculture remain important sources of food, nutrition, income and livelihoods for hundreds of millions of people around the world,” said José Graziano da Silva, director-general of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Aquaculture already provides about half the fish consumed by humans worldwide, according to the FAO.

Fish farming is just one of several innovative ways in which oil and gas industry assets are given a second life. Thanks to the US programme Rigs to Reefs, more than 400 rigs have been converted into artificial reefs since 1986.


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Jorn Madslien is a writer and broadcaster with more than 20 years experience as a journalist for BBC News, CNBC, Dow Jones and Institutional Investor.

 

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