It’s not enough to say that associate editor Helen Thorpe was a fish out of water while reporting her story on the new oil plays in the Gulf of Mexico (“Oil and Water,”). She was really a fish out of water on the water. Three different times, the 31-year-old, who grew up in suburban New Jersey, took helicopter rides ninety miles into the Gulf, where she toured rigs, interviewed foremen, and watched roughnecks drill a well—all while wearing a hardhat. She even spent one night on a production platform. “It was a fascinating experience,” Thorpe says, though it almost didn’t happen. When she first hit on the idea for the story last fall, only Pennzoil officials were immediately willing to let her visit their structures in the Gulf. “One of the other companies was worried about my slant—they wanted to know if I was going to focus on environmental issues,” she says. “Another was worried that I would reveal proprietary information about drilling sites. But eventually, they came around.”