General Oil Rig Information
Off shore oil rigs stretch from Long Beach to Santa Maria on the coast of California. Some are decommissioned, but most are still in active operation. Some of these rigs are in deep water; their support structures rise from depths of 600 feet. The oil rig pillars and cross beams act as an open water oasis – a home for reef & wall critters, and a resting/feeding stop for open ocean species. They make excellent artificial reefs. The rigs are also no-take zones, which mean there is no fishing or harvesting allowed near them.
Some of these rigs allow dive boats to bring out scuba divers to explore the bits of life that now call the support structure home. A few of the rigs that can be currently visited by divers are Eureka, Ellen and Elley off the coast of Long Beach. Divers used to be able to visit Grace, but it has been off limits to divers since mid 2008. Remember to be careful and responsible while out diving the oil rigs-any accident could cause a rig to be shut down to divers, losing a valuable diving resource.
Oil platforms are busy, privately owned workstations and permission to dive them must be obtained well in advance from the oil company that owns them.
Rigs make incredible off shore artifical reefs to learn more, please check out California Artificial Reefs , Minerals Management Service (MMS) and Rigs to Reefs and Rigs to Reefs
View map of California Oil Rigs, courtesy of California Artifical Reefs Enhancement Program.
Grace oil rig
Oil Platform Grace sits 10.5 miles off the coast of Ventura, California near Santa Cruz Island. Grace was installed in 1979 and sits in 318’ of water. The legs and cross braces of Grace (or any other oil rig) underwater are used as a home to an incredible amount and variety of sea life.
There are anemones of all colors, shapes and size as well as sponges, crabs, starfish, nudibranchs, scallops and much more. Schools of fish hang out under the structure as well as some sea lions that use the platform as a home. Grace is currently owned and operated by Veneco.
Eureka, Elly and Ellen oil rigs
Platforms Eureka, Elly and Ellen sit in federal waters 8 ½ miles off shore from the Los Angeles area. Eureka is the deepest rig accessible to divers with it sitting in 720’. Elly and Ellen are unusual because they are a double platform with a bridge connecting them together. They sit in about 260’ of water which is still plenty deep for recreational or tech divers.
The platform on the right (Platform Elly) houses equipment for separating the oil, natural gas and produced water. It also houses equipment to generate electrical power for the 3 platforms (the two shown plus platform Eureka). Aera Energy LLC’s offshore California development centers on the three-platform complex and these platforms – Ellen, Elly, and Eureka – produce oil from the offshore Beta field. Underwater, their legs and cross braces are much like any other oil rig making a home to much the same life such as anemones, sponges, fish, crabs, scallops, starfish, mussels, nudibranchs and much more. All this in a small area and then to top it off you have the schooling fish and sea lions. Diving the rigs is an awesome experience especially on the days with 50’ plus visibility.
Diving the oil rigs
Diving the southern rigs such as Elly, Ellen & Eureka doesn’t require any special permission like the northern rig Grace did but one thing for sure is that you are probably much better off going with a charter boat or group like Channel Islands Dive Adventures that has experience doing rig trips. Anchoring is impractical due to depth and not an option, and tying off to the rig is prohibited therefore, live-boating is essential. The normal routine is to have all the divers geared up, ready to go and gathered on the bow of the boat or at the side gates waiting for the crews instructions. The captain maneuvers the boat as close to the structure as possible, puts the engines in neutral and one by one the divers jump in after instructed to do so, swimming into the rig and descending for their dive.
When the divers are done with their dive they are instructed to stay close to the rig NEVER swimming out towards the boat until told to do so. The captain again maneuvers the boat as close to the structure as possible, puts the engines in neutral and than the divers are instructed to swim to the boat to be picked up, usually in small groups. This is repeated until everyone is safely on board. Sometimes there is current and surge making all this a little more difficult and that is why it is an advanced dive.
Surge is common. Visibility can be 10 feet one day, 100 the next, with 40 to 60 feet the average. Currents, too, can be from light to very strong making it very important to stay under the platform for the dive and only leave that area at the surface when your dive is finished and the boats crew signals you to come to the boat. If there is current you can always shelter behind the legs and cross braces. You must pay attention to safe procedures for entries, exits and underwater navigation. Orientation is mostly visual because with all the metal your compass will most likely be useless. Oil platforms are busy, privately owned workstations and you must always be watching and listening for crew boats coming and going. The best marine life is found from the surface down to about 80 feet. Techies can push 200-feet-plus on the rigs. Prime diving season is generally June through December. The rigs are an excellent dive for photographers and sightseers!