Two years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, Mexico’s state oil company is about to test its hand at drilling at extraordinary depths in the Gulf of Mexico.
If all goes as planned, Petroleos de Mexico, known as Pemex, will deploy two state-of-the-art drilling platforms in May to an area just south of the maritime boundary with the United States. One rig will sink a well in 9,514 feet of water, while another will drill in 8,316 feet of water, then deeper into the substrata.
Pemex has no experience drilling at such depths. Mexico’s oil regulator is sounding alarm bells, saying the huge state oil concern is unprepared for a serious deepwater accident or spill. Critics say the company has sharply cut corners on insurance, remiss over potential sky-high liability.
Mexico’s plans come two years after the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, the worst oil spill in U.S. history. On April 20, 2010, a semi-submersible rig that the British oil firm BP had contracted to drill a well known as Macondo exploded off the Louisiana coast, killing 11 workers and spewing 4.9 million barrels of oil in the nearly three months it took engineers to stop the spill.
BP has said the tab for the spill — including government fines, cleanup costs and compensation — could climb to $42 billion for the company and its contractors.
Pemex’s plans to sink even deeper offshore wells underscore Mexico’s pressing need to maintain sagging oil production — exports pay for one-third of government operating expenses — along with oil companies’ desire to leverage technology and drill at ever more challenging depths.
Carlos A. Morales, the chief of the Pemex exploration and production arm, which employs 50,000 people, voiced confidence that his company has to the ability to sink wells in ultra-deep water.