LAST NOVEMBER A GROUP OF GEOLOGISTS and engineers from Pennzoil’s headquarters in Houston were heading into the Gulf of Mexico to visit several sites where the company was drilling for oil. I met them in Lafayette, Louisiana, where Pennzoil has a branch office that oversees its offshore operations. We boarded a Sikorsky S-76 helicopter and flew over fields where farmers were burning sugar-cane (it was harvest time), over spongy marshlands, and then over the reddish-brown water of the shallow Gulf. The water near the coast was full of sediment dumped in by the Mississippi River, which is the great muddy secret behind the region’s oil-rich geology, but after a while, the water turned a semi-translucent green, the color of jade or marble, as the ocean floor dropped away and the sediment settled out. Then came the oil rigs, perched on the water like mammoth steel herons.
For the past 25 years Pennzoil has owned a handful of oil production platforms in the heart of a prolific oil field in the Eugene Island area, ninety miles from shore. We spent the night on one of them, the C