Skip to comments.1979 Ixtoc oil spill suggests no quick fixes for Deepwater Horizon
Posted on 06/05/2010 10:52:52 PM PDT by Qbert
MEXICO CITY (AP) It started with a burst of gas through the drilling well. Workers scrambled to close the safety valves but within moments the platform caught fire and collapsed. Tens of millions of gallons of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico. Numerous attempts to stanch the spill failed.
Three decades later, the 1979 Ixtoc disaster remains the Gulf's and the world's worst peacetime oil spill.
The parallels between that disaster and the current BP oil spill offer sobering lessons. There were no quick fixes for Ixtoc: It took 10 months to stop the leak, with Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, trying methods similar to those that BP has attempted at its Deepwater Horizon rig.
Pemex managed to slow the spill a little using several methods including forcing metal spheres into the well. But it couldn't stop the leak until two relief wells were drilled and even that didn't work right away: the oil kept gushing for another three months after the first well was completed.
In the end, Ixtoc spewed a record 140 million gallons of oil. Massive slicks reached the northern Mexican Gulf coast and Texas, where it would eventually coat almost 170 miles (275 kilometers) of U.S. beaches.
(Excerpt) Read more at ktla.com ...
Welcome back, Carter.
Here’s a link on the long-term effects of the spill, and an excerpt. Surprisingly it was not as devastating as they thought it would be. (If it were, I imagine it would be a household name like the Exxon Valdez).
EXCERPT: But although Ixtoc was a big disaster, it did not develop into the long-term catastrophe that scientists initially thought was inevitable.
“This is not to say there were no consequences. Just that the evidence is that these are not as dramatic as we feared,” says Luis Soto, a marine biologist from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “After about two years the recuperation was well on the way.”
Wes Tunnell, now at the Texas Harte Research Institute, took samples before and after the oil arrived in Texas that showed an immediate 80% drop in the number of organisms living between the grains of sand that provide food for shore birds and crabs.
“Sampling a couple of years after the spill indicated the populations were back to normal,” he says. Six years after Ixtoc 1 exploded it was hard to find any evidence of the oil, he says. “It is rather baffling to us all. We don’t really know where it went.”
But although their message is hopeful, those who studied the Ixtoc disaster warn against assuming the gulf is automatically heading for another quick comeback.
Ixtoc 1 stood in just 50 metres (165ft) of water, while Deepwater Horizon was drilling 1,500 metres below the surface. It is also likely that the quantity of chemical dispersants being used today is significantly larger, potentially blocking the work of the oil-eating micro-organisms.
But what worries Tunnell most is that over-fishing may have reduced the ability of the gulf to bounce back. “It was much more resilient 30 years ago than today. My fear is it is reaching a tipping point.”
From some reports, the Deepwater Horizon incident seemed to start with some kind of "water hammer" from a slug of vapor going up the string. If that is true, the slug traveled along 5000 feet of pipe. Controlling a slug along 5000 feet of pipe may be a very different proposition from controlling a slug along 150 feet of pipe. The longer pipe would give a rising gas more distance to gain momentum. As a result, the pressure wave would hit the top much harder. If I'm misreading the reports, then the issues involved could be very similar.
Either way, we'll need a thorough causal analysis of this incident before knowing whether the lessons of the Ixtoc incident would have been relevant.
I do wonder though if part of the reason Pemex wasn’t attacked with the same vehemence as Exxon was (and now, BP) is because of the fact that Pemex is a Mexico state-owned company (the kind of thing lefties love- for multiple reasons), unlike the eeeevil Exxon. Just speculatin’
Just a thought how to stop the flow of oil coming out of the ground.
Employ a device resembling a canon, in form of a long very heavy metal tube closed on one end with the purpose of launching a projectile. It does not have to have any rifling with the caliber or diameter of the projectile about the same as the bore hole or slightly larger. The projectile could be slightly tapered in front, and be a NONE explosive metal cylinder with a heavy powder charge behind it. Then make an attempt to position it over the original bore hole which may or may not have to be trimmed some what cleaned up to facilitate and allow the entry of this solid metal cylinder or projectile in to the original bore hole.
Then put a heavy powder charge behind this NONE explosive projectile and shoot it in to the bore hole to close it off. Since the projectile would be recessed in this metal barrel or firing tube, arrangements could be made using compressed air to blow out any water first before firing the projectile in to the bore hole, similar to using a torpedo, except in this case the projectile would be none explosive and only used to plug the hole.
The whole contraption in form of a long heavy metal tube could be suspended from cables above and guided over the bore hole and used repeatedly if the initial try would be unsuccessful, then shoot and re-load until the source of the escaping oil is plugged. Also these metal plugs or projectiles could be cast from solid lead what could be easily bored out and restore the flow of oil in a safe manner once its purpose has been accomplished. Even if the first shot would not be successful repeated attempts may cave in the remaining pipe and pound what is left in to the ground, below the ocean floor, similar in effect to a pile driver.
Well this is just a thought or suggestion; shoot something in to the bore hole when everything else failed to do the trick. I am quite certain if a heavy metal dome was fabricated previously to catch the escaping flow of oil in a fairly short amount of time, the contraption as suggested by me could be rigged up just as quickly or even faster. In order to absorbe some of the recoil a large round metal plate could be welded opposite the exit hole for the Bullet causing it to push against the water above it. I wish some one amongst the readers of FR who has connections could direct this suggestion to who ever is attempting to stop the flow of oil as I do believe this actually may work, by pounding it shut and in to the ground.
Yeah, I’m sure when all is said and done, there will probably be a lot of important differences between the two disasters- the point you made, the issues 21twelve raised, and the fact that, despite the problems encountered so far, the technology and information available is probably vastly improved from 30 years ago.
No doubt - seeing as Exxon was so much smaller than the Ixtoc spill. I surely hope that the environmental effects of the BP spill will be less than feared.
I was hoping for quicker results on the BP cap and hose, but I still don’t think they are capturing too much yet. I hope they can, but it may be like Ixtoc where they/we just have to wait for the relief wells. The live cam shots are just terrible with all of that oil gushing out.
Kind of like a bunker buster! That may work to close of the inner casing, but it is my understanding that most of (all?) of the oil is coming up from the outside of the inner casing, and inside the outer casing. (Two concentric pipes, and coming up in the space between the two pipes. I may be wrong.)
There are also concerns that pluging it up too shallow will cause the oil to blow out of the outer casing, and then find its way to the ocean floor over the easiest route(s) - which may make the leaks even more widespread and harder to treat.
In any case there were three major differences from the Deepwater Horizon situation. Shallow water, the rig collapsed on the wellhead and months of fire.
Moreover, PEMEX refused to pay any compensation - citing sovereign immunity.
Interesting. Yeah, I didn’t even think of that- but it makes complete sense that they would argue that. And sadly, I think they’ve actually had a number of spills since then.
Unlikely. More probable is that it will enhance the performance of the bacteria. Smaller oil particles or oil in solution are easier for bacteria to access.
The article has many errors of fact. A great many studies were done after Ixtoc, both in Mexico and in the US. Many of those can be found online. Ixtoc was not even close to being "the worst oil spill in history". Professor Patzek should be ashamed of making that statement. The worst spill was Gulf War I/Persian Gulf, which was a factor of ten worse than Ixtoc (and which also fully recovered).
Warm water helps the microorganisms, as compared to Alaska.
That tends to reduce negative publicity. No trial lawyers doing “research” for “news” organizations.
Absolutely. Higher temperatures speed of ALL the degradation mechanisms, not just the biological ones.
There’s a very good chance then, that this oil spill is STILL leaking come the Elections. Wow, an election not about the economy stupid, war, but an oil spill. Dems going to get slaughtered before this spill, now what? The media isn’t holding Obama responsible for this, but Joe Six Pack can clearly see the lack of leadership from our President, and they vividly recall Bush being held accountable for every bump in the road on Katrina.