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Flashback: Sixty-six Years Old, Then a Blowup

Natural gas production platform in state waters off the Alabama coast.

Natural gas production platform in state waters off the Alabama coast.

Photo by Jason Norman

In the June 2010 issue of Business Alabama, we undertook a look back at 66 years of the state’s history of oil and gas production. The cover featured one of the wells that mushroomed off of the Alabama coast beginning in the late 1970s.

Alabama’s largest production has come from deep natural gas wells in state waters offshore, we chronicled for our readers. Discovered in 1979 and produced beginning in the late 1980s by Mobil, Exxon, Shell and others, these wells tapped one of the largest new natural gas frontiers in the U.S. — in a league with the gas reserves of the Permian Basin in Texas and Prudhoe Bay in Alaska.    

And the Alabama production came with relatively low risk, noted Dave Bolin, deputy director of the state Oil and Gas Board. Those production platforms off the Alabama coast are tapping natural gas deposits, not oil. Consequently, Bolin pointed out, there is no risk of oil spills from Alabama’s operations.

At the same time we were editing the copy with those observations, BP’s Macondo rig blew up south of New Orleans and began boiling mountains of crude for five months running.

We rustled up a companion story on the disastrous consequences for the Alabama coast, “Ways of Life Hanging in the Balance.”

“This disaster is going to touch everyone whose income relates to the water and recreation,” said Andrew Saunders, founder of Saunders Yachtworks Inc. in Orange Beach.

“We are messing with the beginning of life,” said Barnett Lawley, Alabama Commissioner of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Two months later, “Sea Beds, Oil Plumes and Dead Zones,” the cover lines read for our August issue, with an ominous image of darkened sea depths.

“I did not fully appreciate the potential negative impact in the Gulf itself, until this use of the dispersants at depth got my attention,” said George Crozier, then director of the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. “The real long-term thing is whether the food web does accumulate the toxins. I don’t know the answer, and it will take generations and generations to figure it out. There are still problems with the herring fishery in Alaska 18 years after the Exxon-Valdez spill.”

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

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