This month started with perhaps the most bizarre disaster we have ever witnessed. With images of the ocean being on fire being shared July 2nd onwards, everyone wondered how such a thing could be possible and how it could even be dealt with.
The cause of this fire in the Gulf of Mexico was noted to be a gas leak from an underwater pipeline, as reported by Reuters. The fire, which burned west of Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, was extinguished hours later, state oil company Pemex told the publication.
Videos of a swirling, orange mass of flames surrounded by ocean waves went viral after a gas leak was reported near a platform used for offshore drilling by Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil company.
The scene was made even more surreal by the presence of firefighting boats that were dwarfed by the inferno. The fire had started in an underwater pipeline connecting to a platform at Pemex's Ku Maloob Zaap oil development.
A source stated that workers were able to control the fire using nitrogen and that there were no injuries from this incident.
Angel Carrizales, who heads the Mexican agency charged with regulating pipeline safety, tweeted that the incident “did not generate any spill.” That claim drew some skepticism, given that something other than water had to be present on the ocean’s surface for it to ignite.
According to a CNET report, Simon George, a professor of organic geochemistry at Macquarie University in Australia, explains "The fire was caused by methane and probably other wet gas components (ethane, propane, etc.) igniting at the ocean surface after leaking from the pipeline” caused said fire.
He suggests there must have been a continuous enough stream of natural gas in the one place to sustain the fire and keep it churning, resulting in the wild images that surfaced online.
And while a continuous flow of methane is problematic – it’s a greenhouse gas – he notes that fire may have helped contain some of the damage. “One good thing about the fire is that it consumed some of the leaking hydrocarbons,” he said.
Pemex said no injuries were reported, and production from the project was not affected after the gas leak ignited around 5:15 a.m. local time. It was completely extinguished by 10:30 a.m.
The company added it would investigate the cause of the fire, stating that the company would “carry out a root cause analysis of this incident.”
Ku Maloob Zaap is Pemex’s biggest crude oil producer, accounting for more than 40 per cent of its daily output of nearly 1.7m barrels. The scale of that production poses “an extreme risk for accidents,” according to Greenpeace Mexico.
Investors turned a blind eye to the pipeline accident after the energy ministry designated Pemex as the operator of the nation’s largest oil discovery by private companies, over the objections of a consortium led by Talos Energy Inc.
The government announced its decision to award Pemex the Zama field, as the discovery is known, just days after the gas leak.