Déjà vu: 1979 oil spill like today’s, took 10 months to cap, prof says

COLLEGE STATION— With many forecasts saying the gulf oil spill could continue leaking oil well into the fall, the situation is eerily reminiscent of an incident that happened 31 years ago when a Mexican well named Ixtoc I also blew out - and the resulting oil discharge lasted at least 10 months, says a Texas A&M University oceanographer who has more than 40 years of experience studying the Gulf of Mexico.

Norman Guinasso, who directs the Geochemical and Environmental Research Group (GERG) at Texas A&M, says the Deepwater Horizon well that caught fire and sank on April 20 and the Ixtoc are very similar events, especially in the failed efforts to contain the oil leaks.

The Ixtoc I well, owned by Pemex, the governmentowned oil company of Mexico, exploded and eventually erupted about 50 miles off the coast of the Bay of Campeche in June 1979, sinking the drill platform named the SEDCO 135F.

“What is happening today, especially the failures to cap the well, happened in a simi- lar way back in 1979,” Guinasso says.

“When the Ixtoc well failed, there was also an explosion, fire and the entire rig sank, just like the Deepwater Horizon well. And just like the current spill, there was a blowout preventer that was supposed to have worked, but it did not.

“There was failure after failure to cap the well, just like today. But the big difference in the 1979 Ixtoc oil spill was the depth of the water - it was only in 160 feet of water, not like the more-than-5,000-foot depth of the current oil leak.”

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2010-07-15 digital edition

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