Gulf of Mexico: A Geography of Offshore Oil

Gulf of Mexico: A Geography of Offshore Oil

Use this map of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico to understand and communicate the challenges and risks associated with accessing fossil fuels.


5 - 8


Earth Science, Geology, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography

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Idea for Use in the Classroom

Offshore drilling is a process by which humans access petroleum trapped in rock found beneath the ocean. Before exploring the challenges and risks of this process, have students share how they rely on oil in their daily lives. Using the map, students can work in pairs to identify where most offshore wells and platforms are located along the United States and Mexican coasts and then use the scale to estimate how far offshore most are located. Students can further characterize the location of platforms and wells by using the map legend to determine whether most exist in shallow, deep, or ultra-deep waters.

Next, divide students into small groups and have them develop a list of challenges and risks related to offshore drilling based on the location of wells and platforms, as well as other evidence from the infographic. As students share their lists, review the risk of oil spills using the DeepwaterHorizon andIxtoc1 examples. Connect these spills to environmental impacts and risk to tourism by highlighting the presence of coastal wetlands, using the Loop Current inset to demonstrate how oil could be carried to the Atlantic coast, and analyzing the “Economy of the U.S. Gulf” chart.

Finally, review the chart of U.S. Gulf oil from federal leases to understand how drilling has changed over time. Ask: Should offshore drilling operations continue to expand into deep and ultra-deep waters? Encourage students to consider the advantages and disadvantages of oil extraction, as well as possible alternatives like renewable energy.

Media Credits

The audio, illustrations, photos, and videos are credited beneath the media asset, except for promotional images, which generally link to another page that contains the media credit. The Rights Holder for media is the person or group credited.

Tyson Brown, National Geographic Society
National Geographic Society
Production Managers
Gina Borgia, National Geographic Society
Jeanna Sullivan, National Geographic Society
Program Specialists
Sarah Appleton, National Geographic Society, National Geographic Society
Margot Willis, National Geographic Society
Last Updated

October 19, 2023

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