This lecture discusses the global emergence of offshore deepwater (depths beyond 1,500 feet) oil since the 1980s. The largest oil discoveries in the past two decades, onshore or offshore, have nearly all been found in the deepwater Atlantic Ocean margins of three places: the Gulf of Mexico, southeast Brazil, and West Africa. By the late 1990s, as multi-billion dollar production facilities followed discoveries in these regions, industry insiders began referring to this triad as the “Golden Triangle.”
Treating the history of the Deepwater Golden Triangle as a single story reveals important aspects of deepwater development that are obscured by examining each region in isolation. It specifies how the offshore oil industry’s push into the deepwater frontier actually unfolded over time. It underscores the interrelated factors of geology, capital allocation, technological innovation, culture, and policy that shaped deepwater exploration and production in all three places. Although the Golden Triangle did not emerge from some grand design, the offshore industry successfully turned it into a post-Cold War space of opportunity for oil and gas extraction beyond the increasingly unstable Middle East and largely independent of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC).
Oil discoveries and developments in the DGT helped propel the consolidation of major oil companies into “super majors.” They also reshaped the national security stance of the United States and reconfigured the geographic contours of the global oil market. Finally, by pushing oil exploration and drilling into such extreme ocean depths, they greatly increased the environmental risks of the world’s dependence on oil. We still do not fully comprehend the dimensions of these risks.