Pumped Up

Posted on August 30, 2007 

Pumped Up: Chevron Drills Down 30,000 Feet to Tap Oil-Rich Gulf of Mexico

“Isn’t this transcendent?” Paul Siegele shouts as he presses his nose to the window of a Bell 430 chopper hurtling through a sky thick with rain and pitchfork lightning. We’re flying over the Gulf of Mexico, above some 3,500 oil production platforms, and Siegele is pointing them out with the verve of a birder — here a miniature oil rig known as a monopod; over there a drill ship almost as big as the Titanic; still farther out, platforms looking like huge steel chandeliers that dropped out of the storm-shaken clouds.

Looming like an Erector set version of Hellboy — with cranes for arms, a hydraulic drill for its head, and a 200-foot derrick for a body — the rig appears at once menacing and toylike. But the real spectacle is below the surface: A drill is plunging down through 4,000 feet of ocean and more than 22,000 feet of shale and sediment — a syringe prodding Earth’s innermost veins. That 5-mile shaft will soon give Chevron the deepest active offshore well in the Gulf. Some land drills have gone deeper, but extracting oil from below miles of freezing salt water and unyielding sediment creates a set of technical problems that far exceed those faced on terra firma.

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