Gulf Coast - Industry
The true physical margin of North America as a continent does not coincide with the seacoast. A shelf of land below sea level extends beyond the coastline. In some cases, the shelf extends only a few kilometers, but along much of the Atlantic Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico, the edge of this shelf may lie more than 80 kilometers from shore. Mineral exploration along the coast from the Rio Grande River to the mouth of the Mississippi River has led to the discovery of an extensive series of petroleum and natural gas deposits, both onshore and off.
When the Gulf Coast oil field was brought into production during the early 1900s, Houston was still a moderate-size city of less than 75,000. When the 1990 census was taken, the city had grown to 1.6 million, to rank it fourth in the United States behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Located about midway along the long coastal arc between the Mississippi River and the Mexican border, Houston also lies at the coastal apex of the Texas Triangle joining the cities of Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. With Dallas ranked eighth in population in 1990 and San Antonio ranked tenth, connections with these major inland growth centers and the large cotton exports that originate in eastern Texas have also contributed to the locational strength of Houston.
The search for additional petroleum deposits along the Gulf Coast was extended seaward before mid-century. The petroleum companies' success created new problems, even while economic problems were temporarily alleviated by the discoveries. In overcoming the technological difficulties of drilling for and extracting petroleum using platforms far beyond sight of land, conflicting claims between state and federal governments over jurisdiction of continental shelf resources flared. One result of a complex series of court cases has been variable jurisdiction: Florida and Texas are sanctioned to claim up to 15.3 kilometers seaward, while Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi are limited to 4.8 kilometers.
The continuous rapid increase in domestic consumption of petroleum, natural gas, and petroleum products led the federal government, during the early 1970s, to open commercial bidding on offshore tracts between Biloxi, Mississippi, and Tampa Bay, Florida, and, beginning in the early 1980s, off the Atlantic Coast.
So extensive are the petroleum deposits along the coast between northern Mexico and the Mississippi River that the resource importance of the Southern Coastlands would be a national priority even if these deposits were the region's only mineral resource. Texas and Louisiana are currently two of the three leading petroleum-producing states (with Alaska). And while Texas and Louisiana possess large producing fields well inland from the Gulf, the coastal fields are major contributors to both states' totals.
The numerous scattered Gulf Coast deposits of natural gas are spatially intermingled with the region's long arc of petroleum deposits. Pipelines to carry the gas radiate from the main coastal production centers to the primary consumption points across the country and within the Manufacturing Core.
Also, geologic formations of the Texas and Louisiana coastlands that contain petroleum and natural gas contain two additional minerals of economic value - sulfur and rock salt. The subsurface rock contortions found where petroleum and natural gas have been trapped in economically recoverable deposits were formed in this region by the gradual upthrust of large salt domes. Far less valuable than either of the mineral fuels, rock salt is nonetheless mined in large quantities in southwestern Louisiana. More valuable than salt is the sulfur found in the caprock covering many of the salt domes. The large sulfur deposits at Beaumont, Texas, and across the state boundary near Lake Charles, Louisiana, supply all U.S. needs. Additional deposits both inland and beneath the continental shelf indicate an abundance of this mineral for many years. Also of national significance is phosphate production from substantial deposits in Florida.
Petroleum and natural gas extraction do not, by themselves, usually generate strong local urban and industrial growth. The process of exploration and drilling requires specialized and expensive equipment but not the large variety of support materials or labor demanded by many mining operations. However, large-volume petroleum production can generate tremendous quantities of capital in a short time, and locally accumulated wealth has attracted a variety of industries able to use the minerals near their production sites. Petroleum refineries were built outside all major ports from Corpus Christi, Texas, to Pascagoula, Mississippi, with the most intensive concentration around Houston, Beaumont, and Port Arthur in Texas.
Of broader development impact are the industries that depend on the refinery output for their own existence, such as petrochemicals. Natural gas and petroleum products are used as chemical components for a great many products. Items ranging from plastics, paints, and antifreeze to fertilizer, insecticide, and prescription drugs have their origin in chemical plants located along the western Gulf Coast. In addition, other chemical industries not tied to petroleum and natural gas production, such as those producing sulfuric acid, superphosphate fertilizer, and synthetic rubber, are major consumers of sulfur and salt. The coincidence of the basic minerals within a region possessing large capital investment capabilities has supported rapid economic and population growth.
There is also more to the location of industry, however, than the availability of capital and proximity to raw materials, even petrochemical industries--there is the matter of accessibility.
The Southern Coastlands, as noted, is on the continental margin and as such constitutes the line of exchange between water transport and land transport. Further, since water transportation is cheaper than land transport, shipment of the finished products from the Gulf Coast can be accomplished efficiently by ocean carrier to the ports of Megalopolis and by barge via the intracoastal waterway and the Mississippi River system to the manufacturing core. Conversely, products and raw materials can be moved more efficiently to Gulf Coast industries.
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