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The Gulf of Mexico

While the Gulf of Mexico has always been known for its offshore oil, it finds a place on this list because experts believe that there is a tremendous potential for more oil in deeper and further from the coast. It is estimated that there are about 13 billion barrels of unrecovered oil in the region in an area called as the Lower Tertiary. This area is 200 miles off the coast and stretches from Alabama to Mexico. It consists of probably the oldest rock formation, approximately 60 million years old, and poses a unique set of challenges to reach. When the formation is so old, it needs to be fractured before oil can be extracted and this is not an easy process because of a number of reasons. The primary concern is that no one has ever fractured rock in deep water before and for this particular extraction; massive amounts of hydraulic horsepower will be needed.

Given the recent oil extraction debacle, BP has not yet received approval to proceed with exploring this Lower Tertiary region to which it currently holds rights. However it is expected to proceed with approval in due course.

West Africa

Currently the most active newer offshore oil wells are off the coast of West Africa, specifically Nigeria and Angola. Combined, the two regions have a proven reserve of over 20 billion barrels of oil. Further the geological factors are extremely favorable. The rock is young permitting easy extraction of up to 100,000 barrels a day. Drilling experts claim that the only restraint is the size of the conduit bringing up the oil.

Other countries in the region have also revealed oil reserves off their coast. Ghana is fast becoming a popular site with its Jubilee well, which is expected to hold approximately 2 billion barrels of oil. Oil extraction from this region began in late 2010. Another find was discovered in March 2011 indicating that this could be the area to watch out for in coming years.

The Sierra Leone Liberian basin is hot spot for oil exploration and experts hope that the 700 mile stretch from the Jubilee well to this region will have similar properties and billions of barrels of oil lying beneath. Finally Liberia recently signed a deal with Chevron to conduct exploratory efforts on three different locations off its coast.

The only thing affecting oil production in the region appears to be political issues. While Nigeria was historically Africa’s largest oil producer it lost its spot to Angola due to the political unrest. Unfortunately Angola too has problems of its own relating to oil production particularly due to political battles in the oil rich province of Cabinda. The other countries also have similar political structures and might face similar challenges in the future.


Originally Brazil was known as a biofuel producer thanks to the sugarcane ethanol, which is used as fuel for most of its transportation service. However as late as 2007, the discovery of the Tupi field about 200 miles off the coast of Rio in the Atlantic Ocean changed all that. The field has now been renamed to Lula and is expected to contain about 6.5 billion barrels of oil. Apart from the Lula field, it is estimated that Brazil has another 36 billion barrels of oil located 2000 feet below sea level off its coast and most of it is light and easy to refine.

However the challenge lies in the layer of salt that exists above the oil. The layer of salt is severely thick and possesses a major set of challenges. Since the salt is immediately above a layer of rock, it has caused the underlying rock to become unstable. As a result, when drilling through it, the rock gets broken into smaller pieces, which interfere with the circulating mud. All this can cause major drilling disasters that can have monumental economic and environmental effects.

Oil exploration off the coast of Brazil is an eventuality however it is expected to be delayed until the constraints and challenges are ironed out.

New Frontiers of Oil Exploration

Oil will continue to be the primary source of energy until 2035. Despite all efforts to replace it with more fuel-efficient approaches and alternative fuels, demand for oil is still expected to grow by 18% over the next 25 years. That said, the older oil fields are depleting and there is a growing need to explore new frontiers. Most of those that have been discovered are under the sea. In addition the quantum of oil produced from under the sea is substantially more that the amount that gets generated from onshore rigs. While onshore produces 10 barrels a day, offshore rigs produce 1000s of barrels a day. All this makes offshore drilling an extremely lucrative industry with excellent career prospects. Here are some of the newer frontiers that are quickly gaining importance in today’s world.

The Persian Gulf

The Persian Gulf located in the heart of the Middle East accounts for the largest concentration of crude oil reserves in the world. The Safaniya Oilfield located here is generally accepted as the largest oil field in the world. As per assessments in 2002, the middle east nations of Bahrain, Iran, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, all having rights to the Persian Gulf accounted for over two thirds of the world’s crude oil reserves.

The United States

The US, specifically the areas off the coast of Texas, California and Louisiana all account for a large portion of the word’s offshore oil. Oil fields in the seabed near California have been producing between 35000 and 65000 barrels of oil a day, making it an extremely lucrative and profitable location. Its proximity to the mainland also enhances its appeal. The most well known oil fields in the region are The Ellwoood Oil Field and the Dos Cuadras Field.

The Gulf of Mexico, which comprises the area off the coasts of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi accounts for over 25% of the US oil production. The region produces about 500 million barrels of oil each year and this is only expected to increase as new sites within the area emerge. The most notable oil fields in the Gulf of Mexico are the Atlantis Oil Field and the Tiber Oilfield. Interestingly the eastern portion of the Gulf, the coast of Florida has never been known or considered to contain oil reserves.

The Pacific Northwest and the East coast of the United States, specifically the regions off the coast of Washington, Oregon and Alaska have also been known for their oil producing properties. However they have turned out to be not as lucrative as the areas just up the coast of Canada where oil production has been more successful.

The Great Lakes of the United States are also excellent reserves of crude oil however so far only Michigan has permitted offshore oil drilling in their state. Canada on the other hand has allowed for a substantial amount of oil exploration in their portion of the Great Lakes making this an excellent offshore drilling location for job seekers.

The North Sea

The North Sea and surrounding regions have been associated with oil exploration from as early as 1859. It really began gaining importance around 1973, when the oil crisis stimulated many companies to put in the massive investment necessary for oil extraction. It is a region associated with high production cost. However thanks to its proximity to most European countries and their political stability, it continues to be a profitable region for offshore drilling. It has also become one of the world’s most prominent non-OPEC oil producing regions.

Semi Submersible Drilling Rig

Semi submersibles are used by large drilling companies to assess the viability of a location in deeper waters since unlike a jack-up rig; it is able to float on the water. Very often, this vessel is used to conduct exploratory and extracting functions and if the area turns out to have a substantial amount of oil, a drilling platform will be built.

A semi submersible is also called a floater. It consists of a barge or ship with 6 to 8 cylindrical legs beneath the hull. The drilling set up is located on top of the vessel. At the base of the legs, pontoons and ballast tanks exist to help position and move the barge as the need arises. When the vessel has to be positioned, the ballast tanks and pontoons are filled with water to lower the vessel to the appropriate depth. Then using dynamic positioning, anchors are lowered to keep the vessel in place for drilling operation. Both the anchors and the ballast tanks play a vital role in keeping the vessel stable, which is essential for smooth and effective drilling operations.

When the floater has to be moved, the water is emptied from the ballast tanks and pontoons, the anchors are raised again using dynamic positioning and the vessel is towed to its new location. Some of the more sophisticated semi submersibles are even able to move by themselves with the help of thrusters. When the new location is reached, once again the process begins to effectively position the rig.

Offshore Regions

Offshore drilling as the name suggests occurs in the middle of the ocean 100 to 200 miles off the coast of different countries. A career in offshore drilling is almost immediately associated with world travel and visits to some of the most exciting and exotic nations in the world. This chapter is devoted to elaborating on the most popular offshore drilling locations in the world today along with an insight in what could be the future regions of exploration.

Concluding Thoughts

Life offshore is different from an ordinary working environment and most people who start off in this industry become lifers. Others find it unbearable and cannot put up with its drawbacks for more than a single trip. It is important to reflect your personal preferences and make an appropriate decision after fully understanding what such a life demands. The next chapter which talks about offshore locations can also help in deciding whether this is the career path for you.