Things looked bleak for oil and gas companies in 1995, especially for those along the Gulf Coast.
Energy prices had been so low for so long that investment had dried up. With crude oil selling for about $16 a barrel, scores of wildcatters and small exploration companies had gone out of business. Few companies had any stomach for drilling in water thousands of feet deep, and industry leaders like Exxon and Royal Dutch Shell were increasingly focused on opportunities abroad.
“At the time, the Gulf of Mexico was like the Dead Sea,” recalled John Northington, then an Energy Department policy adviser and now an industry lobbyist.