Gulf of Mexico pipeline leak creates ‘eye of fire’

'Eye of fire' in the Gulf of Mexico
'Eye of fire' in the Gulf of Mexico

A massive ‘eye of fire’ appeared on the ocean surface in the Gulf of Mexico early on Friday, with state oil company Pemex blaming a gas leak from an underwater pipeline for sparking the blaze captured in videos that went viral worldwide.

Dubbed ‘eye of fire’ by viewers on social media, bright orange flames bubbled on the ocean surface a short distance from a Pemex oil platform, with firefighting ships attempted to keep the inferno under control while remote controlled machinery worked to fix the leaking pipeline.

The ‘eye of fire’ took more than five hours to fully put out, and Pemex said workers used nitrogen to control the blaze.

The company claims the fire began in an underwater pipeline that connects to a platform at Pemex’s flagship Ku Maloob Zaap oil development. Ku Maloob Zaap is located just up from the southern rim of the Gulf of Mexico and is Pemex’s biggest crude oil producer, accounting for more than 40 per cent of its nearly 1.7 million barrels of daily output.

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Pemex reported no injuries and said production from the project was not affected after the gas leak ignited around 5:15am local time.

Pemex, which has a long record of major industrial accidents at its facilities, said it would investigate the source of the incident.

Angel Carrizales, head of Mexico’s oil safety regulator ASEA, said on Twitter that the incident did not generate any spill.

The powerful visual of the ‘eye of fire’ prompted many to ask how the ocean could possibly catch alight. Simon George, a professor of organic geochemistry at Macquarie University in Australia, told CNET, “The fire was caused by methane and probably other wet gas components (ethane, propane, etc.) igniting at the ocean surface after leaking from the pipeline.

He suggested there must have been a continuous enough stream of natural gas in the one place to sustain the fire and keep it churning. And while a continuous flow of methane is problematic, being that it’s a greenhouse gas, he noted that fire may have helped contain some of the damage.

“One good thing about the fire is that it consumed some of the leaking hydrocarbons,” he explained.