updated 12/28/2005 9:57:50 AM ET 2005-12-28T14:57:50

Damage to offshore oil and gas platforms from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita has tripled the requests to turn rigs into artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries usually gets 10 to 12 requests a year to use abandoned rigs to create fish habitat.

"This year, we've had close to 40 requests," said Rick Kasprzak, program manager of the Louisiana Artificial Reef Program.

Oil and gas platforms in the program are located in federal waters — more than 3 miles off the Louisiana shore. So far, 144 have been used as reefs. Most are between 35 and 75 miles out, clustered in nine approved planning areas.

A few, in more scattered locations, typically were damaged in hurricanes, Kasprzak said.

This year's hurricanes damaged another 166. But not all will be used for reefs.

Some will be repaired, noted Larry Wall, a spokesman for the Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association.

Others may not be suitable. Kasprzak said the Louisiana Artificial Reef Council probably will meet soon to decide evaluation criteria. "The department is going to have to be very selective," Kasprzak said.

They include potential effects on the environment, navigation and fishing interests.

Wall said he's not surprised by the increase in applications submitted to the state. After Rita, announcements began to surface that some platforms with low production wouldn't be repaired.

Each company must weigh the cost of repairs and likely production against the cost of removing or repairing the platforms for the artificial reef program, Wall said.

He said Hurricane Ivan last year didn't hit the Gulf of Mexico nearly as hard.

"When Ivan hit last year, it passed over 150 platforms," Wall said.

Hurricane Katrina swept over 1,500 platforms, and Hurricane Rita passed over 1,600, he said.

"These two storms took the most destructive path over the Gulf that they could," Wall said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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