There’s something mesmerizing about scrap yards. Especially the big ones.
All those big objects, the sum of an equation involving perceived requirement, raw materials, engineering and time. So much time.
Time at the front end of process, in extracting the materials for production, time in the production itself, time in the use of those objects, and then, perhaps longest of all, the time they spend idle, after their usefulness has ended.
Some are re-purposed, broken down into the materials that can be used elsewhere.
Many are just left as monuments to outdated necessity.
In the case of offshore oil rigs, the necessity has a strong correlation to the price of oil. And as that has been falling steadily since 2014, from a previous ‘psychologically important’ USD 100 to the current USD 30, the oil rig graveyards have been growing at the highest rate in 20 years.
Added to this is the glut of old rigs long past their prime, many of which are idled, or ‘cold-stacked.’ A cold-stacked rig costs millions of dollars to maintain, and there’s a current glut of new generation rigs waiting for oil prices to rise and buyers to return.
These days, getting a decommissioned oil rig to its final destination is more of a challenge than it used to be.
Of course, what we used to do with them was simply drop them somewhere on the ocean floor where they were out of the way of shipping lines. Relatively easy, relatively cheap.
Out of sight, out of mind.
Since 1998, oil rigs – at least the topside, at least in the northern Atlantic region – must be dismantled, towed, scrubbed of hazardous waste, and scrapped. Bases must be reduced to a level that makes them safe for navigation and shipping, the wells completely capped.
Built for the ages, scrapped after a decade or two. Or maybe three. Hundreds of oil rigs all over the world currently await scrapping instead of sinking.
We humans are pretty good at building things to last, even if we don’t need them forever. Cars. Oil rigs. Oil habits.
We aren’t very good at getting rid of them quite so thoroughly.