Major New Oil Find by BP in Gulf of Mexico: Tip Sheet From UH

Melissa Carroll
713-743-8153 (office)

Forecasters in the oil and gas industry predicted the chances of a significant new find in the Gulf of Mexico as dead on more than one occasion. On Sept. 2, the London-based company BP announced the biggest discovery in the Gulf of Mexico with its Tiber prospect in Keathley Canyon, about 250 miles southeast of Houston. Estimates are that the site may contain more than three billion barrels of oil. The technical hurdles and the huge costs involved with operating in the harsh environment may take a decade to develop and produce oil. Improved drilling and production technology enables oil and gas companies to unlock resources in dense formations or remote locations once considered out of reach. As you consider stories for your coverage on this major oil find in the Gulf of Mexico, be prepared with these resources from the University of Houston representing experts across the various fields. For more information, please call Melissa Carroll at 713-743-8153.

Task of Producing Crude Oil in Deep-Water Area

Arthur Weglein is the Hugh Roy and Lillie-Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of physics, director of Mission-Oriented Seismic Research Program (M-OSRP), and professor in the department of physics and department of geosciences, Reflection Seismology for the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. As the search for new sources of oil leads energy companies far from shore, consumers pay part of the price tag for deepwater and ultra-deepwater oil drilling, which can cost up to $100 million per drilling site with no guarantee of reward. “Deepwater oil drilling beneath complex and ill-defined geologic conditions, such as salt, creates a number of economic and technical challenges that demand significantly improved seismic effectiveness,” says Weglein. Weglein heads the Mission-Operated Seismic Research Program, which is sponsored by 16 of the largest oil and service companies worldwide. M-OSRP is developing improved seismic imaging and hydrocarbon target identification – methods for using recordings of sound waves to locate oil and gas beneath the earth’s surface. Reach him at 713-743-3848 or via email at

Leading geophysicist Robert Stewart at the College of Natural Sciences & Mathematics and director of the Allied Geophysical Lab, is working on seismic imaging advances that could unlock new oil and gas deposits deep beneath the earth’s surface. The seismic imaging work of Stewart could aid in deep-sea petroleum exploration, especially vital as exploration moves farther and deeper offshore. Stewart’s work involves sensors placed on the ocean floor that capture reflected seismic waves to produce crisper, more accurate images of the rock formation and possible fluid reservoirs beneath the ocean floor. When an oil deposit is found, improved seismic imaging can help surveyors monitor how the reservoir moves and contracts as the oil is removed, allowing for a more efficient and thorough extraction of the reservoir’s contents. Reach him at 713-743-8230 or

History of Offshore Oil and Gas Development in Gulf of Mexico

Joseph Pratt is the Cullen Professor of History and Business. He earned his B.A. from Rice University and his Ph.D. in economic history from Johns Hopkins. A specialist in the history of the petroleum industry, he has written histories of Amoco, the Texas Eastern Corporation and the National Petroleum Council. He is currently at work on a history of the offshore petroleum industry and is conducting research on a variety of topics in energy history, including the modern history of Exxon. Pratt is also the director of the Houston History Project, a research initiative designed to expand and improve research on Houston's history. In this capacity, he edits Houston History, a regional history magazine published three times each year by the Center for Public History at UH. For more information, please call 713-743-4659 or

Tyler Priest is a clinical professor and director of Global Studies at the Bauer College of Business. A specialist in the history of energy, business and globalization, he is the nation's leading expert on the history of the offshore oil and gas. In 2008, he won the Geosciences in the Media Award from the Association of American Petroleum Geologists for his book, The Offshore Imperative: Shell Oil’s Search for Petroleum in Postwar America and the Alice Hamilton Prize from the American Society for Environmental History for his article published in Enterprise & Society, “Extraction Not Creation: The History of Offshore Petroleum in the Gulf of Mexico”. He is the chief historian on a series of U.S. Department of Interior studies to document the history of the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico, and he is currently working on two book manuscripts, “The Significance of the Ocean Frontier: The Contest over Offshore Oil from the Tidelands Controversy to the Law of the Sea,” and “Seeing into the Earth: The History of Petroleum Exploration in the Gulf of Mexico.”  He is also researching the history of two important modern controversies: 1) pipeline development and wetlands destruction along coastal Louisiana; and 2) forecasts of an impending peak in world oil production, or "peak oil."  Reach him at 713-743-3669 or

Engineering Challenges with Ultra-Deepwater Drilling and Oil Rigs

Su Su Wang, Distinguished University Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Composites Engineering and Applications Center, focuses on new applications for light-weight polymeric composites in deepwater offshore and onshore operations, where traditional materials have performance and economic limitations. He can talk about the challenges of subsea and topside of oil rigs and drilling operations and what research is being done with the materials, structural and equipment aspects composites have to offer – corrosion resistance, high strength and stiffness at a very light weight that is critical in deepwater operations. Results of a recent industry study indicated more than 50 percent cost savings and many enabling capabilities in deepwater exploration and production because of system weight and size reduction offered by composites. “When you are dealing with platforms costing into hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, a 50 percent cost savings with added enabling technical capabilities becomes extremely significant,” Wang said. “And the scope of composites research now includes topside platform structures – machinery, facilities and equipment – as well as critical subsea components and systems – which translates into additional savings.” Research applications for composites include construction of various platform structures, drill pipe, subsea umbilicals for power transmission, rigid and flexible risers, and subsea flow lines with flow assurance – pipes laid on the sea floor to transport production fluids from wellhead to storage facilities. Wang can be reached at 713-743-4515 or