If you read the financial papers, you may be aware that the Gulf of Mexico is looking like a giant, underwater piggybank. New advances in seismic technology, and more powerful equipment developed for fracking operations, have turned oil fields that were thought to be extinct into gold rush territory again. The same dynamic that has led to oil booms in previously quiet regions of the Great Plains and Appalachia is now moving to the less-populated — but at least equally ecologically fragile — offshore drilling zone.

The rock formation that the new fracking technology is focused on is known as the Lower Tertiary. It’s an area that is considered risky to drill in – not because the oil isn’t there but because it’s really expensive and technically complicated to extract from the rock itself. The current estimate is that there’s around $1.5 trillion worth of oil waiting for us there. But the dollar-signs-in-the-eyes effect here could dim fast if we had more information about the risks involved — and if the folks going after the oil had to account for those risks.

To understand what’s going on in the Gulf, you need to travel three years back in time and a couple of thousand miles in space, to Santa Barbara, CA. In 2011, staff at the Environmental Defense Center (EDC) were browsing through the quarterly reports for companies that owned oil and gas drilling leases off the coast of Santa Barbara, and found a reference to fracking. They were surprised — they had thought that fracking was something that happened on land, rather than offshore. The EDC filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of the Interior, which was responsible for handling the leases.