[Close up views from National Geographic’s Geography of Offshore Oil. The gridded squares are approved federal leases as of March 2010, color-coded by sea depth]
If there was a benefit to the gulf oil spill, perhaps it was the numerous maps it generated in an effort to see the extent of extractive infrastructure in the region. Indeed, the scale of the aqueous corporate territory in the Gulf of Mexico is sublimely impressive; a singular program spread across vast space in a geo-specific network.
Below is a map similar to the one above, but from the oil industry’s Offshore Magazine. Although lacking in visual frills, the map makes up for it in its meticulous and detailed survey of proprietary holdings as of 2010. It’s visual suchness is appropriate in depicting the nature of the operations:
Zooming in closer on the same map reveals the complexity of an extraction labyrinth built through incremental and largely uncoordinated actions. Without a master plan, the body of conduits, drills and platforms extends and bifurcates in the x,y and z planes over an archipelago of deep-sea rental properties. In a waterscape of competitive and symbiotic patchwork dynamics, Texaco and Shell’s pipelines traverse through Chevron, Castex and British Petroleum’s surfaces, and vice-versa.
As the oil is depleted, speculation looms on what the post-oil landscape will be like, both in terms of relic architectures and the altered states of the biotic environment, damage to which will set in motion the predictable followup by restoration [reclamation] economies.
Fifty to a hundred years from now, what will be depicted on marine archeology maps of the gulf? As most of the shallow, easy-to-reach oil is already depleted, and the remaining supply is further and further from shore, the extraction process grows ever-more technologically complex, otherworldly and isolated. The inhabited gradient shifts from shallow to deep. It reads like the sci-fi plot depicted in Moon, in which a minimal number of cloned beings is all that is required to oversee the constant and mundane processing of super-sized machines.