Ultradeep Oil Boom in the Gulf of Mexico

Jack Well, Great White, Thunder Horse, Tobago, and Silvertip. These are the names of the next frontier in oil exploration. Petroleum engineers call them “ultradeep discoveries”, and they are happening here and now in the Gulf of Mexico. Together, these deep reservoirs promise to quench the American thirst for oil for up to … five years. Read the New York Times story here.

“Five years?” you say, “Is that all?” Let’s put it in perspective. The United States consumes about 20 million barrels a day. The current estimate for Gulf of Mexico reserves is 40 billion barrels of oil. The mean estimate cited by Gale Norton for oil reserves in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is 10 billion barrels oil. The Perdido project joining most of the wells listed above offers 130,000 barrels a day at peak capacity. That’s not much, only about half of one percent of our total consumption. But it’s a lot of money, enough to draw investors willing to sink billions of dollars into exploration and discovery. You might say it’s almost enough money to put new legislation through Congress.


In fact, a new offshore drilling bill passed December 10 splits 37.5% of new oil drilling royalties for “Lease Sale 181″ between the four Gulf Coast states – Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The bill ends the 25 year moratorium on drilling south of the Florida panhandle, but extends the moratorium in other parts of the state. MSNBC.com reports this here.

Environmental concerns associated with this new activity include spill pollution of the Atlantic bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus spawning grounds, threats to seep organisms, sedimentation impacts to deep water corals, and perhaps most importantly, excessive noise from explosive air-guns used in seismic surveys. NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration has a cool webpage where you can listen to these sounds .

“Every 17 seconds another airgun goes off [in the Gulf]. Do you realize the power of those airguns? They are almost the equivalent of a stick of dynamite, but more focused.” says Dr. Tom Shirley, Endowed Chair of Biodiversity at Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico studies. “An airgun used off the coast of California can be heard in Asia. Because of the distance the sound travels, the sound of seismic air guns is now the predominant background noise in the sea in many locations. The effects the sounds have upon marine mammals are a major concern, but effect upon marine fish and other marine organisms should not be neglected, either.”

If you’re interested in a special Deep Sea News story on seismic testing, say “Aye”.

Past postings on exploration activities here in the Gulf region:

Bluefin Tuna Spawn in the Gulf of Mexico – A plea for better management of the world’s most expensive fish.

Life on the Edge Expedition Launches – Scientists use the Alvin submersible to explore cold seeps and brine pools in the Gulf of Mexico. Includes daily logs with video clips.

Democrats and Republicans come together to destroy the Deep Gulf – Craig saw it coming early on. Read his first rumblings about the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act here.

Peter Etnoyer (406 Posts)

PhD candidate at Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi and doctoral fellow Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies.





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