Midnight at the oasis: does restoration change the rigs-to-reefs debate in the North Sea?

Kristen Ounanian*, Jan P.M. van Tatenhove, Paulina Ramírez-Monsalve

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


In the North Sea, many oil and gas fields will reach the end of their productivity and their associated structures will be decommissioned. OSPAR decision 98/3 prescribes removal of all disused offshore structures as the only acceptable decommissioning option. This policy is the legacy of the 1995 Brent Spar incident, which resulted in the current dominant discourse of ‘Hands off the Oceans,’ ruling out the conversion of oil and gas rigs into artificial reefs (Rigs-to-Reefs (RtR)). The shift from a conservation to a restoration paradigm could open up the RtR debate. In this paper, a discourse analysis is carried out to discern whether and how ideas about RtR and ecosystem restoration are articulated to challenge the dominant ‘Hands off the Oceans’ discourse and thereby bring about change in North Sea decommissioning policy. A discourse analytic framework is applied to elucidate whether an ‘RtR as Restoration’ discourse can be distinguished and how competing claims are presented in the various storylines. Our analysis shows an ‘RtR as Restoration’ discourse, consisting of four different storylines. Given the fragmented nature of this discourse, the ‘RtR as Restoration’ discourse will not overcome the dominant ‘Hands off the Oceans’ discourse.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Environmental Policy & Planning
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)211-225
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • decommissioning
  • environmental discourses
  • Marine restoration
  • North Sea
  • rigs-to-reefs


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