Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs

When I first heard about the difficulties of stopping the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, I thought, “Seriously?  There’s no plan here?  You never tested disaster scenarios?”  It’s as if they thought it could never happen.  If there’s an emergency, you have a plan.  My office has a plan for fire drills, for example.  Well, they never ran a fire drill.  And it seems that one of the factors that makes stopping this leak so difficult is the sheer depth of the spill at 5,000 feet below sea level.  As the Christian Science Monitor reports, “BP has once again acknowledged that this process has never been attempted at this depth before.”  New technologies have allowed us to drill deeper and deeper wells, but the disaster prevention technologies have not kept up at the same pace (no surprise there).

On to the maps: I was shocked when I saw this map displaying the number of oil rigs that currently dot the Gulf of Mexico.  Searching around a bit, I was able to find the data used to create this map at a Minerals Management Service mapping site.  I wanted to look at this data a bit differently, attempting to visualize the depths of each rig.  So I gathered some bathymetry data from British Oceanographic Data Centre, available here.  For each of the rig locations, I applied a depth, then displayed the rigs as graduated symbols; increased sizes for deeper waters.  Taking a closer look at the rig data, I noticed the database contained information about installation dates.  I figured that not only could I visualize the depth of the rigs, but I could also display the data temporally.  And as suspected, what I found was that the deepest rigs were installed most recently.  And the Deepwater Horizon is NOT the deepest rig we have out there.  In describing the data and map to my wife, she suggested that I show an animation of the installations.  And I believe this is the most effective (and terrifying) way of displaying this information.  Okay, no more words…here are the maps:

Vimeo link or YouTube link


88 Responses to “Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs”

  1. AJW Says:

    Is there any way to tell how many of these are actually still in service? I would guess it’s a much smaller number.

    Love your work, Tim. You should start a design studio with a friend who is good with modeling and statistics.

  2. tsinn Says:

    Great question, AJW. I felt like I was already getting too wordy in the description above, so I left out the following important information – I set a query to only show rigs that are currently installed. Rigs that have been removed are not being displayed at all. An additional animation that includes installations and removals would be very interesting. Glad you like the blog, I’d love to start a design studio with a friend who is good with modeling and statistics.

  3. Tweets that mention Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs « The Swordpress -- Says:

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shawn Bichsel, James Richards. James Richards said: Well done map visualization of the age and depth of oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico #oilspill […]

  4. AJW Says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Tim. What I meant was that a large number of those rigs might still be there, but not actually operating. I assume that the ones not currently drilling are not dangerous because they have been plugged.

    • tsinn Says:

      Ah, I see, AJW. I found a little more information on the data source page that should clarify further. At the end of this PDF (, it states, “If installation date is null, the platform is proposed. If installation date is population, and removal date is null, the platform is active. If removal data is populated, the platform is removed.” I should have taken out all of the null installation dates, since they are proposed locations (100 sites). But the rigs that I have displayed fall into the second category, where installation date is population (populated, I assume), and removal date is null. All of these rigs, it states, are currently active.

  5. Kathleen Says:

    Thank you for your time on this work! Great visual. I would like to add something I heard when the disaster first started and some experts gave a few stats on one of the morning news shows. Not only is there between 4,000-5,000 rigs in the Gulf (I didn’t see a number above), but there are about 50,000 wells that have been drilled! I was wondering if you could verify that number and what % of those will be rigs in the future. Also, I am sure everyone knows that (the same expert said this), the oil is not being pumped, it is artesian.

  6. gloria Says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time and making such an effort. I’ve been waiting for the newspaper to publish this but I guess they don’t because it is very depressing.

  7. anon Says:

    I too was shocked at the number of platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Regarding active vs. inactive rigs, the source of the map referenced in this post states that the almost 4,000 oil and gas platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are active (updated June, 2010).

    This 2008 Reuters article states that 717 of the rigs were manned at that time.

    The majority are “unmanned” operations. I wonder if the unmanned platforms are at even greater risk for accidents? Considering the number of platforms in the Gulf, it’s amazing there hasn’t been a huge disaster much sooner.

    Very sad.

    • andrea46 Says:

      The unmanned operations refers to production platforms, not drilling rigs. On production platforms the wells have already been drilled, and now are in production. This is no different from what we do onshore. Wells in production are subject to regular inspections, but not necessarily continouos supervision. Unmanned facilities usually have very few wells, typically no more than 1-4, and the level of risk associated with them is rather small. Besides, production wells usually have shut-down valves under the surface.

  8. anon Says:

    By the way, I just discovered this blog and I commend you, well done. I couldn’t help but compare this map of So Cal offshore oil rigs with the map in your Dec. 10, 2009 post on the “protected” So Cal coastline. Hopefully the Gulf disaster will put a halt to any further CA offshore drilling plans.

    • Jack Says:

      Anon. You really should be wanting oil rigs and this is why. At Coal Oil Point, off the Santa Barbara coast “there is effectively an oil spill every day” due to natural seepage. Grabbing that oil and gas could possibly eliminate the natural ‘disaster’ happening every day.


      [url=]SOS California[/url]

  9. anon Says:

    PS, sorry for duplicating your NOAA link above, I didn’t realize it was the same site.

  10. anon Says:

    One last technical comment. I apologize for my many comments, I have become a bit obsessed with the Gulf disaster. Your animated map is superb, but I thought you might like to know that Transocean, the company that owns the Deepwater Horizon and many other deepwater rigs in the Gulf, shows the Horizon at 7,500 feet or deeper. Here’s a list of their rigs by water depth.

    • andrea46 Says:

      The explanation for the apparent discrepancy in water depth is simple. Drilling rigs move around from one place to the next. Typically they are rated for a MAXIMUM depth, which in the case of the Deepwater Horizon was 7,500 ft, and they can be deployed in any depth less than that. The Macondo location (which is the proper identification) was about 5,000 ft.

      Probably, during its 10 – year life, the Deepwater Horizon was deployed in other locations, deeper than 5,000 ft.

  11. tsinn Says:

    Thanks very much for the comments and links. This continues to be a fascinating issue for me and I appreciate the added information. I found a figure for the depth of the Deepwater Horizon from the undeniably accurate website Wikipedia, which states, “the gusher…originates from a deepwater wellhead 5,000 feet (1,500 m) below the ocean surface.” I also checked the depth against the bathymetry data used in the map, which puts the seafloor below the Deepwater Horizon at -5,036 feet. That said, the bathymetry data are pretty coarse, and I also don’t completely understand the workings of the drill/well/etc.

    As for the number of rigs out in the Gulf, the data I used (which I downloaded a couple weeks ago) show 4,017 installed rigs. The complete data set has 6,658 points, but many of the rigs have been installed then removed over the years. Though I believe this to be a good representation of the rigs in the Gulf, I suspect that the numbers are a bit off, since, curiously, the data did not actually include a point at the supposed location of the Deepwater Horizon. So, grain of salt, I guess. Hopefully all of these data sets will be updated and more data sets will be readily available to download and create further useful analyses and maps in the near future.

  12. Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs – 2nd Post « The Swordpress Says:

    […] The Swordpress listen close « Gulf of Mexico Oil Rigs […]

  13. Tarryn Says:

    Nice work. Very interesting & scary.
    Seems you are half way to being famous. I hope you are saving up to buy your wife and I a couple of ponies!

  14. shava Says:

    Awesome! I am trying to find other geeks to blog with me at to do just this kind of work — I spent a few days pouring through the MMS site and various conferences and obscure news stories from Katrina and such and I have one story on there and another few in draft waiting for me to have more free time. Drop me a line, if you’d like to be an author! 🙂

    The map on my site of the oil/gas pipeline network under the Gulf is sobering. Ever wonder why a tanker can’t load all the oil? Because tankers aren’t usually used. 20″+ pipes — 31,000 miles of them — carry oil and gas from every one of those dots to the refineries on shore.

  15. gretchen Says:

    have been following this story with great sorrow. thank you for all your research, and for putting all this out for us. I had absolutly no idea how many rigs were out there, and anyone looking at this map can understand how fragile the gulf can be. Twenty years ago, my husband was a supply boat captain for the rigs,with a crew of 16. He would be out 2 weeks, on shore one, went out in near hurricaines. He never mentioned how close together they might be. Perhaps he never saw. My heart just aches, because I know this disaster was never even contemplated by the government, and that the oil companies were apparently allowed to write their own rules. Those who scream for less government, I will scream just a loudly for more regulation. Regan deregulated everything, and now we are paying the price, from wall street, to our enviroment. I voted for Obama, thinking he might be our next Kennedy, or Rosevelt. I am sadly dissapointed.

    • tsinn Says:

      Thanks for your note, Gretchen. Your mention of Reagan’s deregulation policies makes me think of the passages I just read in Bill McKibben’s new book, Eaarth. It is amazing, and everyone should read it. What he basically says, is that we had an opportunity in the late 1970’s to start conserving, that our society was actually at a point of accepting a new America, one in which we understood limits on resources. Then Reagan was elected and changed this mentality completely. We “enjoyed” a couple of decades of growing our economy to new levels, and are now on the brink of economic and environmental collapse.

      • John Branch Says:

        I think there are usually economic and social factors, as well as political ones, involved in any “change of mentality” such as happened during the Reagan years. Two severe oil-price shocks during the 70s leading to a period of stagflation, which became a full-fledged recession in mid-1980, were part of what swept Reagan into office; a later economic recovery, which in my view he wasn’t entirely responsible for, though he took credit for it, was part of what ended America’s earlier, favorable attitude toward conservation and frugality. In short, we had money again, and gasoline was cheap again–but that oversimplifies things as well. The Reagan-era deregulation mentioned by gretchen certainly made a big difference in many ways, but I hope McKibben’s book is more subtle, more cognizant of the complexity of cultural change, than to attribute a broad “change of mentality” to one man. If nothing else, we might remember that Reagan was elected by a large majority, and not once but twice. He must have been saying what people wanted to hear and doing what people wanted to see done.

    • andrea46 Says:

      Gretchen, if you wish for more regulation from the government, it is hard to understand what you fault Obama for. For starters, Kennedy was not a great champion of regulation. For another thing, do you think that the other candidate would have promoted MORE government influence?

      In any case, despite all the talk in the media, it is hard to see what government regulation could have prevented the accident.

  16. John Branch Says:

    One quibble about the map design: since the background shading indicates water depth pretty well, it seems redundant for the rig symbol also to indicate this. Otherwise, thanks–this answered something I’d been wondering about. The totals aren’t even particularly surprising, let alone shocking or terrifying, to me. Maybe the difference is that I used to live in Texas. I’ve seen fields of dozens, scores, even hundreds of the old rocking-horse pumps and wellheads, so I’d kind of expect there to be thousands spread over the large area of the Gulf coast.

    • tsinn Says:

      Hi John, thanks for your note. You make a good point about the map design, but the reason for showing shading plus the growing platform symbols WAS redundancy. It more clearly describes the purpose of the map, and I wanted to have the largest impact on viewers as possible.

  17. Jae Kwon Says:

    tsinn, thank you for putting this together.

    A followup question is, where are all the tankers?

    If BP had access to tankers that were involved in other drilling efforts, that were not diverted to collect the oil spill, it seems likely that BP was letting the spill happen because it might be cheaper to pay off (say with a $20B escrow for claims) the victims, rather than fix the problem.

    $20B is less than the annual profit for BP so this seems like a plausible hypothesis so far. Conspiracy theory? No, just typical corporate immoral behavior.

    The conspiracy theory would be that the Obama administration made a deal with BP to slap them with monetary punitive measures in the order of their annual profit, so both BP *and* the administration make a profit at the expense of the environment. I’m just saying, something is really fishy.

    • andrea46 Says:


      In cleaning up the spill, tankers are the least difficult part of the solution. Aside from some particular legislative hurdle, the real problem is a) how to pick up the oil in sizeable quantities (if you had a gigantic vacuum cleaner, you would end up getting mostly water), how to get it inside a tanker, and how to treat it so you can dispose of it. The mixture of oil and salt water cannot be easily treated, unless you have appropriate facilities.

  18. Hoxsie Says:

    Great information ! I had no concept there were so many wells. One other item which needs clearing up: Granted the Deepwater Horizon platform is 5,036 feet above the ocean floor. But the real horror story is that the drill depth INTO the ocean floor is much further than that! I have heard the drills penetrated another 10,000 feet into the sea bed. Can you find that info?

  19. Lynn Says:

    What I would like to know is how many rigs does BP have out there? Is there a website showing how many each company has in the gulf of mexico etc.??? This is really fascinating to me and has really upset me also. I was born and raised in TX and just waiting for this oil to hit the beaches there and all the marsh and wildlife areas there. Not that any of the other areas are not more important because they are just as important. I pray they can get on top of this. Thank you for all the information you have put up for us. I know it took alot of work and time and it is much appreciated. God Bless

  20. Ruwen Says:

    Great blog and great maps, thanks for putting this together.

    Quick note on the depth of the Deepwater Horizon. The Transocean page linked to above lists their rigs by the water depth that they were designed to drill in. The Deepwater horizon was designed to operate in 8,000 feet so it fell in to the 7500+ list. As we all know, it was operating in 5000 feet of water at the time. Regardless, these numbers are crazy right? Also, you have to remember that drill rigs are moved from one site to the other.

    Regarding old rigs in the Gulf… I grew up on the Gulf Coast of Alabama. Everyone that has ever been fishing off the coast knows that there are hundreds if not thousands of abandoned oil and gas structures around the gulf. Not sure what the official laws are but they DO NOT remove the structures. They sit there and rot until a hurricane rips them apart and spreads them across the sea floor.

    Final food for thought, BP has contracts with Transocean to drill in water much deeper than 5000 feet using the same type of equipment and techniques that were used on the Deepwater Horizon.

    • andrea46 Says:

      Actually, the regulations concerning the inactive playtforms are quite clear. It is possible to shut down production temporarily. When a fileld is abandoned, however, all the structures, including pipelines, must be removed within 12 months.

      • charlee Says:

        this is true. however, not enforced. regulations are only words on paper. when it comes to enforcing governments are reluctant to confront large corporations in

      • charlee Says:

        got cut off.

        governments are relucant to confront corporations in am meaningful way, in a timely manner. fines are often just another budgetary line item.

        i could be confused still about the relationship between wells and platforms but: “… within one year of the original temporary abandonment [TA]and at successive one-year intervals thereafter, an annual report describing plans for reentry to complete or permanently abandon the well.” (30 CFR Ch. II, 250.703)

        “While half of the roughly 1800 TA wells in the GOMR have been in that status for less than six years, some wells have been dormant for over 30 years!”

        “… there are about 8,000 non-producing (and presumably SI) wells in the Gulf of Mexico. The database does not provide the length of time each well has been SI [shut in].

  21. John Branch Says:

    As more than one website explains, offshore drilling has been going on for more than a century. Other than the fact that most of us routinely don’t think about the basis for our material prosperity, I can’t imagine why people should find it surprising that oil companies are obtaining oil offshore.

    As for inactive rigs in the Gulf of Mexico (and other places), in many cases they’ve been left there on purpose, to form artificial reefs, which often leads to better sport fishing in the vicinity. Subway cars are often sunk for this purpose; old, decommissioned ships are often sunk for this purpose. Again, I don’t know why anyone should be surprised that oil and gas rigs are also used this way.

    One other small point: common practice, as I understand it, gives a name to individual wells that’s different from the name of the rig used to drill it (because offshore rigs drill one well, then move on and drill another). One of the industry’s names for the currently leaking BP well is Macondo; another is MC 252 or Mississippi Canyon 252 (named, if I understand right, for the topographical section called Mississippi Canyon Block 252 which defines the lease). You may notice that some components of the national press are finally starting to observe this; a recently New York Times article referred to the Macondo well. Certainly everyone understands what’s meant if you say the Deepwater Horizon well (and there’s even an official website reporting on response efforts called DeepwaterHorizonResponse), but it’s not the ideal term. Deepwater Horizon is now a very expensive hunk of junk at the bottom of the gulf; the well is a different thing.

    • andrea46 Says:

      John, I don’t want to seem like I am picking on you. Your comments are for the most part accurate. But on the issue of offshore structures being “left there”, once again you give the wrong impressions. Yes, some offshore structures are used to create artificial reffs. But they are first removed from the original location (regulations are that once the oil field is abandoned, everything has to be removed clear to 15 feet below the mudline). then transported to a deeper water site, and finally dumped there. Leaving platforms to rot away would be, among other things, a potentially serious navigation hazard.

      • John Branch Says:

        I take no offense at andrea46’s comments. I didn’t know much about the subject when I wrote my earlier remark and don’t know much more now. And you sound like like an informed commentator. Some quick searching suggests to me that what’s done with old platforms depends on a handful of things: whether you’re talking about the past or the present, because requirements have changed over time; what water depth you’re talking about; and what international, national, and regional regulations allow or require. (I mean this broadly speaking, not restricted to the American zone of the Gulf of Mexico.)

        In case anyone’s interested: There’s a diagram at showing the various possibilities for a given platform. There’s a recent discussion of the “rigs-to-reefs” possibility, which entails partial removal of a platform, at There’s an overview of the whole subject of decommissioning, which reports more fishery studies than the Miller-McCune article does, at

        As with so many other things in modern life, it seems hard to say anything simple about the disposition of defunct oil platforms.

  22. Oil Platforms in the Gulf: How Many and Who Owns Them? | Deep Sea News Says:

    […] so inclined a map can be quickly constructed. I was going to attempt this but realized that Swordpress has done a fine job with a nice map and nifty Youtube […]

  23. Why the Deepwater Drilling Moratorium Will Continue | BNET Energy Blog | BNET Says:

    […] The oil and gas industry, along with officials from the Gulf coast, have argued all along that local economies would be devastated by a moratorium on drilling, including a $330 million loss each month in direct wages and 44,000 jobs (when support services are included.) To get an idea of just how prolific offshore drilling is in the Gulf, check out this nifty animation put together by swordspress. […]

  24. Kirsten Korosec Says:

    I included your wonderful animation on my latest BP oil spill analysis piece over at BNET. Thanks for putting it together.;content

  25. Taylor Says:

    Are all deep water drilling in the gulf of Mexico shut down? Is there a distinction between platforms that drill and those that just passively collect the oil?

  26. John Branch Says:

    I can answer Taylor’s questions. Regarding the first one, these opening sentences from an article in today’s NY Times should clarify the situation somewhat (full story at

    “A federal judge in New Orleans on Tuesday blocked a six-month moratorium on deep-water drilling projects that the Obama administration imposed after the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The White House swiftly vowed to appeal the ruling.

    “In a 22-page opinion, the judge, Martin L. C. Feldman of United States District Court, issued a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of a late May order halting all offshore exploratory drilling in more than 500 feet of water.”

    So, drilling in shallower water isn’t in question, nor are wells that are already producing–it’s only new wells in deep water that may be temporarily blocked.

    Remember that the U.S. isn’t the only country that does deep-water drilling (which is probably obvious) and isn’t even the only country that does deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. The last major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was a case very like the present one: blowout, explosion and fire on rig, blowout preventer couldn’t be activated, rig sank, massive amounts of oil leaked into Gulf (fouling the Texas coast, though the rig itself was far away). That occurred at the Ixtoc-1 well, operated by Pemex, the Mexican national oil company, in the Bay of Campeche in 1979; it took nearly 10 months to shut down the flow of oil by means of a relief well. Mexico is presumably still operating offshore oil platforms in its national waters.

    Taylor’s 2nd question: yes, there is a difference. The platforms that are able to _drill_ subsea wells in deep water are nowadays mobile and are very expensive. They’re floated into position and temporarily tethered to one location, where they drill a well; the well is then temporarily sealed while the drilling rig is moved elsewhere to drill another well (or maybe docked for a while); at the well it just completed, other means are used to collect oil and gas and route it to shore, including production platforms (i.e., rigs that are used simply to manage the production of oil and gas from a well that’s already been drilled). I think it’s often the case now that no platform is built for the production phase: a complex subsea network of pipes is instead used, with nothing on the surface at all. That’s something I’m not sure about. It’s certainly true, though, that the drilling platforms are used on more than one well; Deepwater Horizon had been in service for some years, drilling other wells in the Gulf.

  27. phil Says:

    I have been trying to find information on what administration the horizon was built under, any one with said information, post an answer ,please.

  28. John Branch Says:

    A reply for Phil: There’s an entire page of information on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, including the year it was built and the company and country that built it, at I don’t intend to be rude, but it took me about 60 seconds to find that, by looking up the company that owned the rig to see if it had a list. How hard did you look?

  29. andrea46 Says:

    Hello all; the questions you ask suggest that you could do with a bit more information.

    First of all, you get confused by the terminology. The term “Rig” is used to describe a mobile structure, like the Deepwater Horizon, that drills wells in one place, then caps the wells, withour extracting any significant amount of oil, and then moves on to another location, to drill more wells. Typically a rig stays on teh same location for a few months, before moving on. The database from the MMS does not contain any information concerning these drilling rigs. At any time, there may be a few hundreds of them in the Gulf of Mexico, of various types.

    Those that are more numerous (a few thousands) are production platforms. Those are the ones that produce oil and send it to shore. Since the beginning of operations in the Gulf, in the 1940’s, about 6,000 platforms have been installed, but several of them are either removed or inactive. In all these cases, the wells have been completely plugged. Today, about 4,000 platforms of varying sizes are still producing.

    In total, over 13,000 wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

  30. andrea46 Says:

    The Deepwater Horizon was built aboiut ten years ago, but the criteria for coonstructions of these rigs have not really changed. In any case, there was nothign wrong with the rig itself. The problem was the way the well was drilled.

    • charlee Says:

      what are your credentials?

    • John Branch Says:

      A full, reliable picture may not emerge until the federal inquiry is completed. That was true with the Challenger explosion, which was another case in which technical and managerial factors, plus a sense of complacency (“we’ve never lost one before”), combined to produce a disaster. But *for now* I’d support andrea46’s declaration, with a slight rewording: there was apparently nothing genuinely wrong with the design or the construction of Deepwater Horizon. Though there have already been reports of maintenance failures and other difficulties, e.g. with the rig’s positioning system, and it appears that a BOP with multiple shear rams is more prudent, those things aren’t design or construction failures per se.

      As for credentials, which charlee asks about, I’m not sure that matters. What andrea46 said fits the evidence as I’ve seen it.

      • andrea46 Says:

        John, thanks once again. One additional point. The comment I made about the Deepwater Horizon addressed the original design of the rig itself. The BOP is an additional piece of equipment, which comes from a different manufacturer, and is designed in accordance with other standards. It is indeed possible, however, that no matter how good the original design of the various components was, improper/insufficient maintenance might have contributed to the accident.

    • Sam Dalton Says:

      Hi indeed Andrea you are correct most rigs deepwater drilling capacity will depend on the mooring system or DP with the derrick and draw works lifting and handling capacity and mud pump hydraulic circulating determining the depth the well can be drilled to. The BOP as you point out is a separate piece of ancillary equipment either rated to 10k or 15k pressure rating this is chosen based on the reservoir pressure that is expected.
      The BOP has 2 control pods that can actuate the rams in the event of a well kicking. The primary well control is the drilling fluid that is weighted to compensate for depth and pressure to maintain pressure.
      In my experience working in all areas up to driller and in safety on drilling units the issue in this case is one of time which is always the fundamental driver to contraventions of procedure. I am guessing from experience that the weekly testing of ram function as scheduled showed a fault. As the well was close to completion within days the decision with regard to fixing the BOP was over ridden.
      It generally takes a day to ensure the well is static and the cuttings are clear if drilling under balance.
      1 day to pull the drilling assembly to the surface.
      1/2 a day to recover the wear bushings.
      1day at this depth to recover the BOP to surface
      1 day to fix and test the pods
      1 day and a half to run the bop to the sea bed.
      1/2 day to re run bushings
      1 day to run back i to the hole and establish circulation and start drilling.
      So you see that just to fix the issue if all goes well would put back deadline by a week and at $300k a day is a significant cost $2.1m you can see how this puts pressure on the client rep who probably said they would be done in a week.
      This is quite aside from the cement bond log issue and the delay in spotting the signs of a kick and the decision to displace more than was advised of the drilling fluid causing an under balance which would rely on the dynamic friction during displacement to compensate for loss of hydrostatic pressure especially with a malfunctioning BOP.

      Just my opinion.

  31. Steve Acevedo Says:

    I was wonderring if you could tell me, out of all these oil rigs, how many of them are under US regulation?
    When our government imposes a no off shore drilling mandate how many oil rigs are affected?

  32. andrea46 Says:

    For Steve:

    If you are referring to mobile drilling rigs, which move from one place to next every few months, like the Deepwater Horizons, they are usually built in accordance with various international regulation, but must be eventually approved for use by US regulators.

    For permanent production facilities, which remain on location for a number of years, sometimes up to 20 or 30, extracting oil out of the ground, they are always built in compliance with the laws of the country where they are located.

  33. andrea46 Says:

    For Steve:

    The current moratorium the Department of the Interior is trying to impose would affect only deep water wells, and as ot today would limit the activities of about 30 rigs (I think the last number was 33).

  34. andrea46 Says:

    For John:

    John, in general your comments are right. However, the statement that “other countries” are working in the Gulf of Mexico is a bit misleading. The Gulf of Mexico is a body of water that stretches between the US to the north and Mexico to the south. Once we get inside the gulf, i.e. west of Cuba. you are either on the US sector or in the Mexican sector. Each country retains full jurisdiction on its territorial waters.

    Each country, however has the prerogative to allow private companies or other entities (even individuals) to perform exploration and production activities. This includes companies like BP, Chevron, Shell, Exxonmobil, etc. Some of those companies have headquarters in the US, so we refer to them as “American”, others have headquarters somewhere else, so we tend to call them “foreign companies”. No “foreign government” is allowed to operate in the gulf.

    • John Branch Says:

      Andrea46, thanks for responding. Though it’s a minor quibble, looking back at the comment of mine you seem to be addressing, I see that I referred only to Mexico and didn’t use the phrase “other countries.” However, I believe you were trying to make a distinction I failed to make: there are countries and there are companies; oil exploration and production around the world is conducted sometimes by independent companies (such as BP, Chevron, and Royal Dutch Shell) and sometimes by entities that are partly or entirely government-owned, which is the case with Pemex, with Petrobras (the Brazilian national company, which is pursuing a major deep find off the coast of Brazil), with Saudi Aramco (in Saudi Arabia), with Rosneft (in Russia), and with a number of others.

      I would’ve done better to say that various companies are operating in the American sector of the Gulf of Mexico and that the Mexican national company is operating in the Mexican sector. What I did say may have been misleading, as you pointed out.

      • andrea46 Says:

        John, you are right. You never said that other foreign countries were working in the US side of the Gulf of Mexico. What confused me was your statement about deep waters. While Mexico, through PEMEX, is certainly operating in the Mexican side of the Gulf, they are nmot working in deep waters at all. For now they have no production wells in more than a few hundred feet.

  35. andrea46 Says:


    Thanks for bringing up the information about the deepest wells in the gulf. Despite the apparent shock of many people on this blog and elsewhere, the industry has been doing this (drilling for and producing oil from the GoM) for 70 years. The information has always been there, but the public, apart from the communities living along the Gulf Coast, who generally speaking have done very well from this industry, has pretty much ignored the issue. Besides, of course, the “drll, baby, drill” slogan.

    We seem to be shocked by the discovery that “we are drilling a well in 5,000 ft of water, and then we go another 20,000 ft below the bottom of the sea”. The industry had reached those boundaries some 10-15 years ago. In fact today they have been drilling exploratory wells in over 10,000 ft water depth, they are producing oil from wells as deep as 9,000 ft, and they have production platforms in water depths in excess of 8,000. All of this to say that the Deepwater Horizons was far from being the “leading edge” of technology. The industry is well past that.
    The problem was in the use of thet technology, not in its capabilities.

  36. Sam Mario Says:

    Thanks for all the information. This has been enlighting. Glad to see that the cap has worked so far on day 90.

  37. andrea46 Says:

    For Charlee

    The difference between wells, drilling rigs and offshore platforms can be confusing, so I will try to clarify. I apologize if I fall short. Terminology in the offshore business is not as consistent and stadardized as it ought to be.

    A drilling rig like the Deepwater Horizon (a floating vessel not equipped with processing equipment) drills one well at a time. It can sometimes drill more than one at a given location; then it caps the well(s) and moves on. Typically it stays on the same location no more than a few months. These rigs are generally referred to as MODU (Mobile Offshore Drilling Units), precisely because they move from location to location, often in different parts of the world. They are generally designed to work in a broad range of water depths, geographic locations and environmental conditions, in accordance with international regulations (verified by independent international Classification Societies), and they have to be certified for deployment in a particular national jurisdiction.

    In the GoM, MODUs are not captured in the platform map put together by the excellent work of tsinn, but the MMS is aware at all times of where the rigs are working, because every single well has to be approved in advance (even the relief wells being drilled by BP right now).

    Production platforms are the ones that have production equipment on board to process the crude. They generally are permanently deployed, most are fixed to the seabed, but a few, in deep waters, are floating. They stay on the same location for a number of years (10 – 20 is normal, but some platforms have remained on location, surviving hurricanes, for as long as 50 years). While many small platforms have only one well, larger platforms can host as many as 50-60. In this case, not all wells will produce at the same time. So, at any given time, a platform may produce from half its wells, while others may be “temporarily shut-in”, and remain that way until the field is totally depleted. Then all infrastructures on the field (platforms, pipelines, wells, etc.) must be decommissioned and all infrastructures removed. So it can happen that many wells remain in limbo for many years. There are also cases where the field operator may consider restarting a well later in the life of a field, if it makes economic sense.

    Your comment about enforcement of abandonment is valid, but in US waters the enforcement is easy. If a platform owner does not clear up the site, even with some delay, it can be banned from entering further rounds of licensing, and there can be many consequences on the fields still in production. Oil companies, specially the large ones, do not take these requirements and restrictions lightly. Besides, the bad publicity deriving from a mishap with a structure abandoned and not removed would cost a major company much more than the cost of removal. Can you imagine headlines like “Cruise ship collides with platform abandoned by Oil Company XXX” “Fishing boat sinks after collision with platform wreck left in place by YYY”? Lawyers all along the Gulf Coast would have to work overtime for years… and for the next 20 years they will be busy litigating the Macondo spill anyway…

    • charlee Says:

      Barataria Bay, GoM, the tugboat Pere Ana C. struck an **abandoned wellhead** near Bayou St. Denis in Barataria Bay, Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana causing a 20 to 100-foot oil and gas geyser.

      • andrea46 Says:

        From the limited information available, it seems that the original owner of the well went bankrupt sometime ago, and just “skipped town”, neglecting its obligations to decommission the well and remove the wellhead. The State of Lousiana did indeed declare the well “abandoned”, which is the first step towards taking control of the situation. The original owner is however still liable for capping the well and clearing the site, so this may end being tied up in bankruptcy court.

  38. Finnegan Says:

    I wonder if the brainiacs in the oil industry are itching to suggest that given the Deepwater Horizon was only one of thousands of oil rigs, it shows that the percentage of failed rigs is very low.
    Or maybe they just don’t give a shait.

  39. Video of Gulf of Mexico rigs « A Man With A Ph.D. Says:

    […] Video of Gulf of Mexico rigs August 15, 2010 — Richard Gayle from The Swordpress […]

  40. David Todd Says:

    I came along late to this, but am very impressed with the graphic. So well done, both in collecting and showing the data. I’d like to look at the underlying data more closely if you would be willing to share it. Possible? Thanks for considering, David

  41. Sam Dalton Says:

    Of course there is “paperwork” called HIRA which is supposed to risk assessed all scenarios but most are reviewed by people who do not really understand the process and assign risk based on incomplete understanding of the process and down grade either the possibility or likely hood of an incident happening as most operations could be out with the numerically acceptable level.

    After years of working as a safety advisor for drilling and diving I have found it is pointless to think that someone employed by the company can effectively make operations safer. People think that employing an advisor is enough to ensure that the perception of the company will be one of being proactive in safety.

    For one thing we an only advise management this is the extent of our power it is for management to decide from a company point of view which can take or disregard advise. Those that will not tow the company line will be moved to another unit.

    Unfortunately we cannot trust companies to make the unpopular decisions. Do we need some external consultants that report to some agency that has the power to ensure advise that is relevant is considered and acted on? In my opinion we do.

    Lessons from the gulf spill clearly point to the man on the ground disregarding advice and pressurising even the Offshore installation manager who is directly and legally responsible for the safety of all on board his unit. Of course he again works for the company who could have put pressure on him to please the client this we will probably never know.

    We need someone employed by the government agency who has a bigger stick than the client operator to ensure compliance. A crucial factor is that the safety advisor should have sufficient knowledge in the field to be able to make judgement calls on behalf of the government agency. The companies as a condition of licence could pay for such advisors.

    In an ideal world companies would be proactive and welcome such change and most I do believe have the commitment but some individuals do see it as a direct challenge to their ultimate authority within their sphere of influence and will try to impose control.

  42. Rob Says:

    Thanks all for the interesting read, even 6 months later.

    The NOAA links above seem not to be working anymore.

    Does anyone who is reading this have a source which details the number of deep-water wells currently active?

    (I’m not looking for number of platforms, just number of wells. It is my assumption that the majority of active wells in the GOM are not deep-water, but it would be great to find a source to confirm this.)

  43. andrea46 Says:

    The best site to get information about the number of wells should be the BOEMR, the successor to the MMS.

    If we set the deepwater limit at 1500 ft, which is were the MMS used to set it, I would guess that the total number of exploration and production wells in deep waters should be a few hundreds, maybe 500 or 600, over a total number of producing wells well over 13,000.

  44. Rob Says:

    Thanks for getting back to me!

    The link I was specifically referring to:

    It was posted by Anon on June 13th.

    I’d been spending some time on the BOEMRE site prior to posting here, but couldn’t find anything definitive. I looked at the latter of the two links you posted, and struggled to make sense of the ASCII documents.

    Thanks for the input. It’s good to have a ballpark figure to start with. Where specifically on the BOEMRE website did you find that info?

  45. andrea Says:
    There are several ASCII files, which however need some work to decode. The number of deepwater wells I quoted is my best guess, based on the estimated number of platforms deployed in deep waters (i.e. >1,500 ft) and the average number of wells per platform.

  46. Sarah Palin: With Our Four-Dollar-Per-Gallon President 2012 Can’t Come Soon Enough | The Gateway Pundit Says:

    […] Thanks to Barack Obama’s failed energy policies, seven deepwater rigs were moved from the Gulf of Mexico in the last year to Egypt, Angola, French Guiana, Nigeria, Brazil and the Mediterranean Sea. (Swordpress) […]

  47. colo Says:

    Nice work but I searched the location of shell oil rigs in Google and I got to this web, do you know a web that could tell me that?

  48. andrea Says:

    The website link provided by tsinn offers useful information. However, judging from the request, it looks like there is a persisting confusion that should be clarified, and that is not helped by the animated chart shown on this blog.

    The word “rig” properly means “drilling rig”. In the offshore oil and gas business, drilling rigs, sometimes referred to as Mobile Offshore Drlling Units (MODU), are used to find out if in one particula location there is sufficient oil to warrant commercial exploitation. Those rigs, like the Deepwater Horizon, typically go to one location, stay there for a few weeks or a few months, drill a well (sometimes do a bit more), but eventually go away, move to another location, and the process repeats itself. Drillig rigs are generally owned by drilling companies (in the case of the Deepwater Horizon, the owner was Transocean), and oil companies just rent them for specifc periods of time. Consequently, Shell does not own rigs, even though undoubtedly they have one or more under contract at any given time. Also, the position of drilling rigs is not shown in the chart above, precisely because they move around. That information can be obtained from other databases.

    What the oil companies typically own are production platforms. These are more substantial and permanent installation, which are built and installed only after the exploratory drilling hs confirmed the existence of suffcient reserves. Production platforms (which also sometimes, but not always, drill wells, and therefore have a platform rig on top), come in all sizes and shapes. Some are small and host one or two poroduction wells, some are very large and host as many as 50 or 60 wells. Production platforms, specially the large ones, are permanent infrastructures, and remain on location up to 20, 30 years and even longer. Those are the ones whose positions are clearly well defined, and are tracked by the chart prepared by tsinn.

  49. Steve Lucas Says:

    Does the U.S. own the Gulf of Mexico? How is it that we can regulate more than 12 nautical miles off the coast of the U.S–the interntionally recognized limit for any country?

    I hear that Mexico, China, Brazil and even Cuba are drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, but our own domestic companies are regulated. I read that the Obama Administration loaned Petrobas (PBR) of Brazil $10 billion to drill for deepwater wells in the Gulf as well as off the coast in Brazil. I own shares of the stock.

    Is our government trying to raise oil prices which result in higher gas prices, so we conserve?

  50. andrea Says:

    The Gulf of Mexico is not “owned” by anybody. Three countries share the territorial waters of the Gulf: The US. Mexico, and Cuba. The limit of a country’s territorial waters extends generally to 200 miles (not 12), unless of course doing so would encroach into the waters of another country, in which case they meet half way.

    Mexico keeps its territorial waters to itself, alllowing foreign companies only in very specific instances. The US allows anybody to bid for a lease, which is a concession to drill offshore. When offshore acreage is put up for sale, anybody has the right to bid, and the highest bidder get the lease. US companies are no more or less regulated than anyone else in what they can do offshore. Remember, no matter who finds oil in the Gulf, whether they come from Brazil, Norway, France etc., the oil still belongs to the US, and all these companies pay royalties to the US government.

    If the US government was interested in raising the price of oil it would not lend money to others to drill to find more oil. In any case, despite all the nonsense that comes up from all sorts of directions, the US cannot control the price of oil, because the national production is just a small fraction of what other countries produce. And even if we started drilling everywhere in the US, we could never produce enough to affect the price of oil, which is set by other countries and other people.

    What might make people conserve is not necessarily the price of oil, whixh individuals do not really buy, but the price of gasoline, which is affected by the price of oil, but also by other things. If the government wanted to raise the price of gas, instead of trying to push up the price of oil, which it cannot really do, it would be much easier to put a tax (say $1) on every gallon of gasoline.

  51. Quadbravo Says:

    I am amazed at the comments and misinterpretation on this site. People read the data with “horror” and are “saddened”. Please. Suggestions that Reagan is somehow to blame for this could not be more illigitimate. Suggestions that there are no drills for emergency, completely erroneous. What we have here are a group of seemingly jobless bloggers who, with no technical expertise, have no rendered a decision that all drilling is unsafe despite some 50,000 wells being drilled and operational without issue. I think all of you should stop buying gas and electricity as testimony to your rejection of fossil fuels.

    Gotta love the comments like “I hope you are saving up to buy your wife and I a couple of ponies!” Yep, “buy I a pony”. Sounds good. Search on nominative and objective case if you need help.

    • tsinn Says:

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to read the posts and comments. There’s been a really healthy discourse here, in my opinion, with lots of concerned and/or knowledgeable people discussing the technical and political aspects of the platform data and tragic oil spill. If you have some technical expertise and insight, we’d love to hear it.

      The point of the maps and animation, in my opinion, is not necessarily to show the sheer number of wells being drilled, it’s to show the number of deep water wells that have been drilled in the past decade. And, obviously the emergency preparedness has only gone so far with these wells, since recent history has proven that blowouts and spills at these depths can literally take months to stop. I assume this would not be the case for wells that are in water depths of 300 feet or so.

      P.S. – “illigitimate” is actually spelled “illegitimate,” and I assume you meant to write “have now rendered a decision” when you wrote “have no rendered a decision.” Search on spell check and proofreading if you need help.

      • andrea46 Says:

        Good reply, tsinn.

        I would only add that, unfortunately, the fact that blowouts and spills in these depths take months to stop, true as it is, is not the whole story. To me the worst aspect was realizing that the industry did not have a clear strategy for dealing with these problems, and they literally had to make one up as they went. By comparison, let’s think of a situation where there is a major fire in a high rise building, and when the firefighters get there they say something like “Let’s sit down and think this through…. what are we going to do next?”

  52. Quadbravo Says:

    I see that; indeed caught them as I saw it posted. My apologies if the typos caused you any confusion. I rushed it a bit. But here is something you need to digest. You cannot reasonably account for every accident. It’s too costly and too time consuming. The equipment you are talking about is highly complex and actually very proven. The core of the fault came from manufacturing error; not a design.

    But to my point, tell me honestly, how many people have something in their car in case they drive off a bridge and wind up inside a car, perhaps inverted, with water around. It’s nearly impossible to break a window without a tool yet cars are sold without this tool. Don’t tell me you have one. Planes and cars are actually safer if all the passengers were to face the opposite direction. It’s engineering fact yet no one does it. It’s impractical and accidents don’t occur that often. The same holds true in this case. More to the point is that the volumes of oil, while slightly problematic, had no where near the devastation contemplated by the media because they don’t understand volume or large numbers. As humans we the terms billion and trillion just seem like large entities but we are not grasping the ratios intuitively. The volumes of water far exceed that of the spill and biological breakdown occurs. The wells are still under a moratorium instituted by a bureaucratic manuever by the Obama Administration after having lost in court regarding the written directive. The regulations governing this were reworded, literally, changing all terms that said “should” to “must”. So drilling left our shores and is being welcomed by other countries which this Administration says they will help fund, so long as it is in a foreign land.

    I could show you a thousand things you touch each day and there is no formed solution for resolution in emergency. Each case can be different. In the big scheme of things they apply guidelines.

  53. andrea Says:

    Obviously, the difference between the examples you use and the situation at Macondo is the scale of the consequences in each case. While it may not be practical to have a contingency plan for each single occurrence of daily life, it is a normal process to have drills for emergency situations that can affect a large number of people and have far reaching consequences. You may notice that nobody in the industry tried to suggest that they should not have had in place appropriate preparation for an occurrence such as this. In other words, the accident was a very unfortunate (specially for the victims) occurrence. The fact that the industry had no plans for how to cope with it was unforgivable.

    And let’s stop this nonsense about the language of the documents (which is a red herring) and about drilling having left our shores. As soon as permits are issued, wells are being drilled. There is no shortage of drilling rigs in the Gulf. That was always a red herring. The delay due to the moratorium is real, but there is no delay due to unavailability of rigs.

  54. Quadbravo Says:

    Well clearly we have far different opinions and I assure you I am not here to change yours. I will end on this note: Your suggestions that the difference is in “scale of the consquences” cited in my examples vs. Macondo appears weak. Over 40,000 people die each year in cars; 11 died at Macondo. You use an example of a fire in a building with the parallel being that people sit down and think about it. What this tells me is that you clearly are not involved with the Fire Dept and more than likely do not, and have never, engaged in construction, manufacturing or a hands on job. More specifically, every building is engineered differently. There is not one set of plans for every building. There are guidelines and you follow them. Your suggestion that there that “there were no plans in place” is just phallacy. The Dept of Int. regulates drilling, to a fare thee well.

    The delay due to the “Moratorium” real? It was real. No longer real because it was shot down in court. He did not lift it. That same directive was under redraft when Obama’s Admin instituted the word change; “should” to “must”. That has nothing to do with rig availability and I never suggested it did; or what you now refer to as a “red herring”.

    Drilling, as in new or exploratory drilling, has indeed left the Gulf for American companies. There is no way to incorporate all the changes. On the other hand the Russians and Chinese are on their way to fill that void and we can buy it from them. Wonderful. Obama suggests further that the US would “like to be Brazil’s biggest oil customer”. And wants to gave them a couple BILLION to start. (nothing for residents of the Gulf mind you) Terrific.

    I think precaution is fine but don’t get crazy. What was the “plan” on 9-11 for rescue at the Twin Towers? Is there a plan in place now? 3,000 died including over 300 Fireman. Maybe close all the Fire Dept’s until they come up with a better plan. After all they did have big losses. It’s extremism. ,

    Over 40,000 dead in US car accidents each year. I don’t see them stopping traffic or shutting down GM.

    What’s truly unforgivable is thousands of job losses and billions in lost wages precipitated by the Moratorium which is now de facto via the word smithing by the Dept of Int; the disingenuous support of foreign countries to competing with us; and 5 trillion in debt expansion since 2008.

  55. andrea Says:

    You throw all sorts of things together, whether they belong in this conversation or not. For example, the size of the federal budget (which, by the way, has NOT increased by 5 trilion in the last two fiscal years) has nothing to do with this discussion.

    Perhaps you could explain a bit more clearly what wordsmithing has to do with the “moratorium” … and how it has facilitated foreign countries in competing with us. In the end, the moratorium will have deferred oil production from the Gulf by nine to twelve months. But the delay in production will not destroy the oil, which will still be there, and, presumably, will be produced at higher prices than today.

    In any case. it is high time that we all stop believing in the fairy tale that by drilling more wells in this country we could become self-sufficient or affect the price of oil, or the price we pay at the pump. That ship has sailed long ago, back in the 70s. The United States simply do not have sufficient reserve to affect the global oil market.

    So, I am not clear about the role the Russians or the Chinese, who seem the be the bogey-men of today, are playing or will play in this. Perhaps they will export oil (I doubt the Chinese ever will, as they do not have sufficient reserves for themselves)…. Since we can’t be self sufficient, what is the difference anyway who we buy oil from, whether is Canada, Mexico, the Middle-East, or Venezuela? Wherever it comes from, it has the same price, and that is a factor we cannot control. Unless, of course, we reduce consumption substantially.

    Coming back to the original discussion, I have no interest in discussing with you my background, on which you happen to be wrong. I agree, when it comes to fire, every building is different. That is way in most responsible companies and organization generally there are people who plan for emergencies, and there are drills to make sure that everybody knows what to do should one occur. Similar things happen in hotels or other places where substantial numbers of people congregate. I even have similar arrangements in my family (and I suspect that you do too). I hope it will never be necessary, but we have rehearsed what to do in the case of fire.

    When thinking of safety (life safety, protection of the environment and property), the generally accepted approach is to prioritize events to be addressed on the basis of risk. Risk is a combination of probability of occurrence and of consequences. So, generally the single events that have the possible highest consequences are the ones that are addressed first, like natural disasters.

    In the drilling business, the possibility of a well blow out, which can lead to loss of life, environmental disasters and loss of property is clearly one of the top issues to worry about. While I agree with you that it may not be possible to eliminate entirely the possibility of occurrence, mitigating the consequences is absolutely vital. This is where the industry did fall down, probably because of complacency.

    I never suggested there were no regulations or standards. What was missing was a real contingency plan. The industry was caught flat-footed, possibly because of complacency. After all, a problem of similar proportions occurred once before, and even then it took a very long time to shut down the well. But it was long ago, and it was not on this side of the Gulf, so it was perhaps easy to forget.

    Now that the problem has become real, and with the spotlight of public opinion shining on the industry, on all sorts of emergency plans, together with equipment and resources are being created, identified, developed and put in place. That should have happened sooner. The investment needed to achieve that has proven to be much less than what BP, the industryand society at large will have to pay as a consequence of Macondo.

    This was a bit like building a city without thinkink of having a fire station.

  56. Conservative News from Conservative Bloggers » Blog Archive » Sarah Palin: With Our Four-Dollar-Per-Gallon President “2012 Can’t Come Soon Enough” Says:

    […] Thanks to Barack Obama’s failed energy policies, seven deepwater rigs were moved from the Gulf of Mexico in the last year to Egypt, Angola, French Guiana, Nigeria, Brazil and the Mediterranean Sea. (Swordpress) […]

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