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WSJ: Cramped on Land, Big Oil Bets at Sea

Authors: Ben Casselman, and Guy Chazan
January 5, 2010

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Ben Casselman and Guy Chazan report on offshore drilling by big oil companies that is made possible by their technological and financial advantages.

Chevron is leasing the Clear Leader, which floats in 4,300 feet of water in the Gulf of Mexico, to drill for oil through nearly five miles of rock.

Big Oil never wanted to be here, in 4,300 feet of water far out in the Gulf of Mexico, drilling through nearly five miles of rock.

It is an expensive way to look for oil. Chevron Corp. is paying nearly $500,000 a day to the owner of the Clear Leader, one of the world's newest and most powerful drilling rigs. The new well off the coast of Louisiana will connect to a huge platform floating nearby, which cost Chevron $650 million to build. The first phase of this oil-exploration project took more than 10 years and cost $2.7 billion -- with no guarantee it would pay off.

Chevron came here, an hour-long helicopter ride south of New Orleans, because so many of the places it would rather be -- big, easily tapped oil fields close to shore -- have become off-limits. Western oil companies have been kicked out of much of the Middle East in recent decades, had assets seized in Venezuela and seen much of the U.S. roped off because of environmental regulations. Their access in Iran is limited by sanctions, in Russia by curbs on foreign investment, in Iraq by violence.

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