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Exploration Challenges in the Gulf of Mexico

David S. Holland

The offshore petroleum industry took a small step across the Louisiana shoreline in the 1930s. As the onshore, and later the shallower water areas matured, explorationists have continually searched at greater drilling depths and in deeper waters for larger fields and higher discovery rates.

Since its beginning, the offshore industry in the Gulf of Mexico has set the pace for the global search for offshore hydrocarbons. During this nearly 60-year period, industry has encountered successive new exploration frontiers and water-depth barriers. On each occasion, industry has risen to meet the challenge by developing the necessary concepts, technology, expertise, facilities, and infrastructure. Understanding sedimentation, stratigraphy, and tectonics has developed and evolved to provide the necessary geologic basis for extending old, and predicting new, producing trends. Seismic technology has continually advanced to provide the data and techniques for mapping and predicting structure, stratigraphy, and reservoirs beyond the drill bit. Offshore drilling and production technology has progressed from shoreline to ultradeep water operations.

The Gulf of Mexico is one of the world's most prolific basins and the largest offshore producing region in the United States. Ultimate recoverable reserves are estimated at nearly 70 billion barrels of oil and gas equivalent. Yet, two-thirds or 45 billion barrels remain to be discovered. If the past is any key to the future, to meet tomorrow's challenges explorationists will need to possess the same resourcefulness and inventiveness as their predecessors, on whose shoulders they now stand.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91028©1989 AAPG History of Petroleum Industry Symposium, September 17-20, 1989, Titusville, Pennsylvania.