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Photo courtesy of Meridian Ocean Services

Oil companies and environmental groups are teaming up to support leaving  scuttled rigs on the ocean floor.

There are about 3,600 offshore oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, and a third of them will be decommissioned over the next five years.

Removing the structures will  “destroy almost 2,000 acres of coral reef habitat and the seven billion invertebrates that thrive on or near the platforms.,” including some federally protected species, like scleractinian corals, octocorals, hydrozoans and gorgonians, according to a report from Fox News.

But a 30-year old law requires complete removal of most of the structures, thereby damaging the ecosystems that have developed around them.

Many say the 1970s-era law was enacted when the environmental harm from removing rigs wasn’t well understood.

Oil companies spend at least $3 million to remove each offshore platform to avoid liability for causing navigation hazards.

But environmental groups and even the U.S. Department of the Interior support  using decommissioned rigs as artificial reefs.

Even if the rigs are left in place, the wells themselves have to be capped with concrete, eliminating the chance of spills from leakage.

Sen. David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana, introduced a bill called the Artificial Reef Promotion Act. It would require creation of 20 new reef planning areas off  the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and and Florida, Fox New said.

But legal issues surrounding oil company liability for the decommissioned structures are unclear and could scuttle oil-state support for the bill.