The Mexican-owned oil company Pemex was drilling in the southern Gulf of Mexico when the rig blew out. An estimated 3. The oil slick spread to the shorelines of Mexico and as far north as Texas. Nearly 40 years later, Beneath the Horizon returns to the scene of the blowout to learn about how the environment responds over time to a spill of this magnitude.
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At the time of the spill, three corporations were participating in operations of the exploratory Ixtoc I oil well: Sedco, a Texas-run American company, and two Mexican governmental agencies, Permargo and Petroleos Mexicanos West Drilling at this exploratory well was initiated by PeMex six months prior to the spill, on December 10th, Jernelov PeMex utilized the Sedco semisubmersible drilling platform for this project, which was submerged feet and stabilized by a total of nine 30, pound anchors.
When this circulation is lost, a well faces the looming threat of a blowout. When a blowout occurs, an oil spill ensues, and this is precisely what happened at the Ixtoc I well West On June 2nd, the day before the blowout of the well, the drill bit had reached a depth of meters. At this depth, the bit was met with a region of soft sedimentary soil that caused a reduction in the weight of the bit, a common occurrence referred to as a break.
As representatives from PeMex and Sedco argued over the best corrective action for such a problem, oil began to build up in the well column West This caused a subsequent surge in mud that rushed up the drill pipe and onto the Sedco platform.
At this hazardous juncture, a device known as the blowout preventer stack was supposed to act as a crucial safeguard against blowouts at the Ixtoc I well. This safety mechanism is comprised of many blades devised to shear through the drill pipe referred to as shear rams in the video below and firmly close together in order trap in oil that may be escaping from the well prior to a potential blowout.
However, it failed work correctly when PeMex operators tried to activate it. During the surge of mud that flooded the drill pipes, the pipes on which this preventer stack was supposed to act became cross-threaded, preventing the blades from properly shearing and closing. This chain of events resulted in the disastrous oil blowout that occurred at am on June 3rd Jernelov Soon afterwards, the escaping oil ignited and exploded when it made contact with gas fumes from a motor that powered a derrick aboard the platform.
This fire burned until am the following day, and caused the Sedco drilling tower to completely collapse. The platform was declared a total loss, and oil continued to violently pour out of the blown-out well for days, until March 23rd, West This video will help illustrate what a properly functioning blowout preventer is supposed to do as well as the possible ways a blowout preventer can malfunction.
Photo taken from Tuscano, Paul. In the nine and a half months between the blowout and the capping of the well, many efforts were made to cap it, and few proved successful. These efforts did manage to gradually lessen the outpour of oil from the well, but these minor successes were achieved very slowly.
When the spill began, approximately 30, barrels of oil spilled per day. One month later, as crews began to pump mud into the well, the flow was reduced to 20, barrels per day. Shortly afterwards, in early August, crews managed to pump , steel, iron, and lead balls into the well, which successfully quelled the spill to 10, barrels per day.
In the months that followed, Mexican authorities succeeded in drilling two relief wells into the main wellhead. This lowered the pressure of the blowout even further Ixtoc I Countermeasures. However, oil continued to leak out of the well for three months after the completion of the first well.
During this time, divers made attempts to manually operate the failing blowout preventer, but this effort also failed. Finally, after months of pumping a combination of cement and salt water into the well, PeMex managed to seal it off and end the flow of oil with the cement plugs Campbell.
By the end of the spill, a total of 2,, metric tons of oil escaped out of the blown out well. The following tables indicate both the rate of oil release throughout the duration of the spill as well as the fate of that oil Jernelov Figure taken from Jernelove page
Ixtoc I Oil Spill
These diverse environments hold differentiating ecosystems that support several species of fish, crustaceans, mollusks, birds, and more within them. With oil totaling about , metric tons according to Pemex oil company estimates of lost into these marine ecosystems from this disaster Myer, , it seemed these various populations of organisms would be heavily affected and were in for unfortunate declines. Photo taken from John Tunnell. When scientists came to survey and assess the damage to the ecosystems and environment, it was believed everything hit by the oil would die and crucial parts of the marine food chain, as well as populations of organisms depended on for anthropogenic needs, would be destroyed. However, with cleanup efforts performed, as in work to keep oil away from the rivers and lagoons to ensure nutrients were still flowing into coastal areas, as well as the hurricane sweeping oil onto the easily cleaned sand of the beaches of Texas, the spill diminished and marine life recovered quickly.
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