It takes a lot to start a fire in the ocean. After all, water usually extinguishes flames. But as Pemex demonstrated last week in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, the right set of conditions — a leak in a gas pipeline plus an electrical storm — can set the ocean on fire and be very difficult to extinguish.
The gas leak started in the Campeche Sound early Friday morning, according to Petróleos Mexicanos, aka Pemex, the state-owned petroleum company responsible for the ill-fated pipeline. Before workers could repair it, lightning struck. Voila, a subaquatic fireball.
Pemex swung into action on the ocean and PR cleanup fronts. Firefighting vessels closed the pipeline’s valve and sprayed in nitrogen; they managed to extinguish the fire in about five hours. Pemex claims no oil was spilled, and the environment was unharmed. The company says it is investigating what caused the gas leak.
But Greenpeace Mexico isn’t ready to let it go and move on. The environmental group stated that the fire “demonstrates the serious risks that Mexico’s fossil fuel model poses for the environment and people’s safety,” as reported by ABC Chicago.
A person might wonder if the world wouldn’t even know about this disaster if not for people like journalist Manuel Lopez San Martin, who posted a video of the disaster that went viral on Twitter. The video shows ships spraying water on a fire in the ocean. A surreal image, indeed. San Martin wrote that the fire was only 400 meters from an oil platform.
This reporting stands out considering the dangerous conditions for journalists in Mexico. Mexico outranks Iraq as the most dangerous country for journalists, with eight killed in retaliation for their work in 2020 alone.
Pemex has a less than stellar record, with several leaks and fires in its recent past. A January 2019 explosion in one of its Tlahuelilpan, Hidalgo fuel pipelines killed 137 people during a massive gas heist gone wrong.
Lead image © Manuel Lopez San Martin