More bubblin crude

deep_rig_crop.gifUnlike people in the glamour states of Florida and California, folks here in Texas don’t mind a little offshore oil development. We view the petroleum industry as two parts necessary evil and one part benevolent overlord. And, we feel this way for free. We don’t get paid off like the lucky folks in Alaska. Our complacency is almost a kind of nostalgia. You might say Big Oil has it pretty easy here in the Gulf of Mexico.

In 2001 there were 46 deep water rigs operating in the Gulf and the mood was one of cautious optimism. Now, thanks to escalating oil prices, the mood is more like a rich man’s bliss.

The Baltimore Sun reports on a new ultra-deep oil platform set for installation:

Eight miles north of the maritime border with Mexico, in waters a mile and a half deep, Shell Oil Co. is constructing the most ambitious offshore oil platform ever attempted in the Gulf of Mexico.

As tall as the Eiffel Tower, the floating production facility will be anchored to the ocean floor by moorings spanning an area the size of downtown Houston. Slated to begin operating late next year, this leviathan known as Perdido (or Lost) will cost billions and be capable of pumping 100,000 barrels of crude a day.

Rigzone notes:

The spar will be secured in place by nine chain and polyester rope mooring lines, spanning an area of the seafloor roughly the size of downtown Houston.

I’m a sucker for any story with the word “ultra deep” in it, but the article at the Sun invokes an interesting discussion of a “drinking straw effect” wherein a US rig close to a maritime border might siphon oil from across the boundary in Mexican waters. This is a little backwards, though.

My understanding is that crude oil in the seafloor strata is under such tremendous pressure that its forced out, by natural means or by injection. So, technically there is no “sucking sound” for Mexico to worry about. The oil is not drawn off like Uncle Sam with a drinking straw, it is forced out by surrounding pressure. Minor detail.

Another point relevant to recent discussions here at DSN is the timeline from exploration to extraction, and when a country (like Britain for example) might have knowledge of reserves (around the Falkland Islands, perhaps) and when it later becomes technically feasible and profitable to extract those resources. The ultra deep oil reserves here in the GoMx are situated around Alaminos Canyon, which was explored (for biology) in the late 60’s, so my guess is we’re seeing a forty to fifty year timeline for the development of these oil fields.

LATimes covers the same story at the Baltimore Sun, with better graphics, like the one shown above.

Dr. M (1730 Posts)

Craig McClain is the Assistant Director of Science for the National Evolutionary Synthesis Center, a National Science Foundation supported initiative. He has conducted deep-sea research for 20 years and published over 50 papers in the area. He has participated in and led dozens of oceanographic expeditions taken him to the Antarctic and the most remote regions of the Pacific and Atlantic. Craig’s research focuses on how energy drives the biology of marine invertebrates from individuals to ecosystems, specifically, seeking to uncover how organisms are adapted to different levels of carbon availability, i.e. food, and how this determines the kinds and number of species in different parts of the oceans. Craig’s research has been featured on National Public Radio, Discovery Channel, Fox News, National Geographic and ABC News. In addition to his scientific research, Craig also advocates the need for scientists to connect with the public and is the founder and chief editor of the acclaimed Deep-Sea News (, a popular ocean-themed blog that has won numerous awards. His writing has been featured in Cosmos, Science Illustrated, American Scientist, Wired, Mental Floss, and the Open Lab: The Best Science Writing on the Web. His forthcoming book, Science of the South (, connects cultural icons of South such as pecan pie with the science behind them.

One comment on “More bubblin crude
  1. While there may not be a ‘sucking’ sound, depending on all the geologic factors, there are situations where you can deplete the reserves from an adjacent area … but, at the scale that the article is talking about, I don’t know. The examples I remember hearing about are at the 10s of acres sort of scale, not 100s of km.

    Although I don’t have firsthand knowledge of the subsurface geologic details near the border, it really depends on how compartmentalized the reservoirs are … ie., if areas are separated by faults and/or the sedimentary fabric, doesn’t matter how close it is, one would still need to poke a hole in the other area. I suppose theoretically, if the reservoir was one giant connected entity, then engineers could figure a way to drain it, but that’s typically not the case … there’s far too much geologic heterogeneity. And, as you mention, at some point, the natural pressure drive decreases such that they need to start injecting and artificially driving the fluids to a producing well.

    Blah blah blah … interesting post :)

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