Ixtoc: The Gulf's other massive oil spill no longer apparent


Ixtoc: The Gulf’s other massive oil spill no longer apparent

[LEFT] MALAQUITE BEACH, Texas … The oil was everywhere, long black sheets of it, 15 inches thick in some places. Even if you stepped in what looked like a clean patch of sand, it quickly and gooily puddled around your feet. And Wes Tunnell, as he surveyed the mess, had only one bleak thought: "Oh, my God, this is horrible! It’s all gonna die!’’
But it didn’t. Thirty-one years since the worst oil spill in North American history blanketed 150 miles of Texas beach, tourists noisily splash in the surf and turtles drag themselves into the dunes to lay eggs.
"You look around and it’s like the spill never happened,’’ shrugs Tunnell, a marine biologist. "There’s a lot of perplexity in it for many of us.

Like the BP spill, the Ixtoc disaster began with a burst of gas followed by an explosion and fire, followed by a relentless gush of oil that resisted all attempts to block it. Plugs of mud and debris, chemical dispersants, booms skimming the surface of the water: Mexico’s Pemex oil company tried them all, but still the spill inexorably crept ashore, first in southeast Mexico, later in Texas.
But if the BP spill seems to be repeating one truth already demonstrated in the Ixtoc spill … that human technology is no match for a high-pressure undersea oil blowout … scientists are hoping that it may eventually confirm another: that the environment has a stunning capacity to heal itself from manmade insults.

Not to make light of the BP disaster – but it is interesting that Nature can bounce back.


Read “The Resilient Earth” by Hoffman and Simmons.


Consider even when there is a volcanic eruption that wipes out every living thing to a depth of many feet, as soon as the lava cools, the process of plant and animal life re-establishing itself begins.

There have been many massive oil spills; in every case the many processes of natural breakdown of the oil begins right away and recovery begins immediately and nature begins to re-establish itself. Nature is irresistible.

Even if you poured concrete, nature starts to crack it and break it down and vegetation starts to establish itself.

In my opinion, the fault lies with the scientists and engineers who assume either that there are NO natural restorative forces or that the natural restorative forces are few and weak. In fact, there are many natural processes and the scientists just don’t know what they are [or haven’t done the homework].

In the present case, the politicians at the national level have deliberately sabotaged the recovery efforts at every turn and then blamed the recovery efforts for being inadequate.

Yes, the earth has a remarkable ability to repair itself.

However, the article does have couple cautions. The smallest creatures recover fairly quickly, but not so the larger ones.

As much as the experts marvel at the way the environment recovered from the Ixtoc spill, none of them are shrugging off the BP disaster. Some larger species with longer life spans took years to recover from the Ixtoc spill. It wasn’t until the late-1980s that the population of Kemp’s Ridley turtles, which lay a couple of hundred eggs a year, as opposed to the millions produced by shrimp, started recovering. The immediate losses from an oil spill continue to ricochet through larger species for generations.

And the Ixtoc spill was a shallow water spill. The effects of deep water spill aren’t fully understood.

And while the Ixtoc and BP spills are in many respects startlingly similar, they also have important differences … particularly the depth at which they occurred. The Ixtoc well was in relatively shallow waters, about 160 feet deep. Nobody knows what happens to oil at 30 times that depth.

"Do I think the environment has an amazing resilience? Yes, I see it every day as we patrol the shoreline,’’ says Travis R. Clapp, a National Park Service resource manager who works at the Padre Island National Seashore. "But I’d be cautious about saying how quick the recovery from this spill is going to be. We’re in a whole new ballgame here.’’

What I am witnessing is a shifting of arguments.

[Well, we just don’t know what is going on below the surface because of the depth of the water.]

So, the beaches argument went away. [It took ten years for the turtles to make up their minds to return.]

So, now the anti-drillers have shifted to we don’t know because of the depth of the water.

Well, we DO know.

Well, there are wells much deeper than one mile being drilled elsewhere. We do have experience with natural seeps and with accidental spills from ship wrecks and naval battles in all depths and in all climates. And nothing really major.

So, this statement:

“Nobody knows what happens to oil at 30 times that depth”.

is really a false statement. I will let those with academic degrees in argumentation decide the specific kind of false statement that this red herring happens to be.

[You know … there are some people who just enjoy fighting and the chaos that can result from their enjoyment of fighting. They are not interested in any kind of social or societal progress; they just want to fight and argue and maybe have their way, if they even care. And some of these folks even say that if I win argument #1, then I should let them win argument #2 because it’s only fair. Well: baloney.]

[If someone is a troublemaker and they just looovvve making trouble, maybe we should ban them.]

Actually, from what I recall, that has been a concern expressed in news coverage pretty much from the beginning. Concern that we didn’t know where the oil was going, whether we were missing deep sea plumes. And concern over the possible effects.

um… yeah. Their population was decimated, so it was a bit hard to return when you are dead. And it took years for their population to rebuild.

Yes, this is major. This is a huge spill, and it is ongoing, with no end in sight. The examples you cite are much, much smaller in scale and so their effects were much more limited.


If you read that statement, it almost sounds NOT like the scientist is amazed at the natural recovery, but he almost sounds disappointed that the damage didn’t last longer or that the damage was not permanent.

It’s almost like he WANTED for the damage to be permanent; he was DENIED an anti-drilling argument.

And the other thing is that the oil on the beach was more than a foot thick!!! THAT IS A LOT OF OIL ON THE BEACH.

So far in the current spill, we have only some tar balls on the beach that can be scooped up. [No thanks to the Obama Administration which has deliberately worked overtime to prevent the oil from being picked up at sea.]

"To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades …But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again.’’

That kind of optimism was unthinkable at the time of the spill, which took nearly 10 months to cap. The 30,000 barrels of oil a day it spewed into the ocean obliterated practically every living thing in its path. As it washed ashore, in some zones marine life was reduced by 50 percent; in others, 80 percent. The female population of an already-endangered species of sea turtles known as Kemp’s Ridley shrank to 300, perilously close to extinction.

Read more: mcclatchydc.com/2010/06/12/95793/ixtoc-the-gulfs-other-massive.html#Comments_Container#ixzz0rz7PrgIZ

It took nearly ten months to cap. I wonder if that is what we can expect with this latest BP blowout?

The politics behind a 1979 oil disaster were likely a little different though. People fully understood then that without oil there would be no economy. The oil embargo would have still been fresh on people’s minds, and therefore they were able to suck up the idea that even big disasters such as this were better than the alternative.
Wishful thinking of an oil-free future today seem to abound and are driving the political response to the blowout.

Libya is inviting BP into the Mediterranean now on deep-sea drilling ventures.a Even if the ecology is resilient and has a way of bouncing back quickly, if it takes months to ccontains these gushers, it makes sense that provisions are in place to contain the oil in the meantime.

Is that not what government environmental agencies have been mandated to do? There was already a precedent here so people ought to have known what to expect. It seems to me that the primary story here is not about BP recklessly maximizing profits. It is about government agencies having no contingencies in place for the inevitable accidents.
30,000 barrels daily for ten months speaks to the need for oil containment contingencies.

At best, the Obama federal response at oil containment reeks of incompetence and unpreparedness.
At worse, it is a conspiracy, maximizing environmental disaster in order to make selling points for the latest Cap and Trade legislative push, “not letting any crisis go to waste” Machiavellianism.

There is something truly disgusting in the idea that any ‘environmentalist’ may actually be wishing for unmitigated environmental disaster in order to push for their own political agenda. Maybe this smelled bad even to Obama’s traditional “thrill-down-their-legs” supporters, and is why they turned against him so harshly in his speech where he linked his response to the disaster with the need for Cap and Trade. It is the difference between bleeding heart liberalism and the cold-blooded crassness of leftist power politics.

The 1979 well spewed 30k barrels per day. This one is gushing 100k bpd.
We can only hope that it doesn’t take ten months to contain.

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