(CNN Spanish) – The images of a fire on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico sea, which resembled a great “eye of fire”, traveled the world quickly.
The fire occurred on July 2 in a Pemex submarine line in the Mexican state of Campeche – in the southeast of the country – and according to Mexican oil (Pemex) was caused by a gas leak from an underwater pipeline that migrated to the surface and “given the electric shocks and heavy rains, the fire broke out on the surface of the sea.”
The fire started at 6:15 a.m. Friday, and was extinguished at 11:45 a.m. Miami time. Pemex indicated that it managed to extinguish the fire “by closing the submarine valve and inject nitrogen into the gas pipeline. “
The sea on fire
Laura Mugica Sánchez, chemical engineer and PhD candidate from the University of Southern California (USC) explained to CNN that for a fire to occur, the presence of three elements is necessary: a fuel (the gas in the pipeline), oxygen (from the fuel and air) and a spark (which in this case was caused by an electrical storm, according to Pemex).
“If you have these three [elementos] at the same time, you will not be able to put out the fire, ”said Mugica Sánchez, who explained that during conventional fires the water absorbs the heat of the fuel, but in this case —being in the sea— the fuel is above the water. , so it is always in contact with oxygen.
That is why nitrogen is key to extinguishing a fire like the one in the Campeche Sound, since it is necessary to eliminate contact between fuel and oxygen. “This is done by displacing the oxygen with another gas; either water, CO2 (like that of extinguishers) or nitrogen in this case, ”said Mugica Sánchez.
Ecological impact of the fire
According to Pemex, in the July 2 incident “there was no oil spill and immediate actions to control the fire that occurred on the surface of the sea avoided environmental damage.” However, environmental organizations such as Greenpeace Y Oceana They called on the Mexican authorities to investigate the impact of the fire and develop a plan to repair the damage.
Greenpeace said in a press release that the incident off the coast of Campeche caused an “ecocide that shows the unsustainable operation of the fossil fuel industry in Mexico and the world”, while Oceana described the fire as an “environmental catastrophe “.
“Extracting hydrocarbons from the sea has constant risks of accidents and pollution, in the specific case of the gas leak and burning of July 2, it is important to know the real impact it has on ecosystems in the short, medium and long term” Renata Terrazas, executive director of Oceana in Mexico, told CNN.
However, Terrazas indicates that the problem is that there is no information on the effects of this type of accident, so they cannot “measure the impact of the explosion and we have to wait for the environmental authorities to carry out this work.”
“What we can assure you is that it had negative consequences, we need to know to what extent they affected marine life,” said Terrazas.
For their part, activists like the independent senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders and the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg criticized the dependence on fossil fuels. “This is the world they are leaving us,” Thunberg wrote on Twitter, sharing video of the fire.
Meanwhile the people in power call themselves “climate leaders” as they open up new oilfields, pipelines and coal power plants – granting new oil licenses exploring future oil drilling sites.
This is the world they are leaving for us. https://t.co/4hQ8nm11Fd
– Greta Thunberg (@GretaThunberg) July 3, 2021
On press conference on monday, The president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, was asked if the Government of Mexico would review its fossil fuel model in the face of criticism from some environmental groups and international organizations, to which he replied that his administration is moving forward to create alternatives.
“In order not to depend on fossil fuels, on non-renewable resources; so much so, that a ceiling has already been put on oil extraction, we are not going to extract more than 2 million barrels a day,” said López Obrador.
The president said that this action will help the policy of improving and not deteriorating the environment.
Nitrogen, “the worst polluter in the world”
According to the organization Ocean River Institute, Nitrogen “is the world’s worst pollutant affecting the oceans” as it causes harmful algal blooms, eutrophication and hypoxia, which reduces biodiversity, degrades ocean ecosystems and contributes to global warming.
For its part, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that nitrogen, like phosphorus, are nutrients that are a natural part of aquatic ecosystems, but when they are entered in larger amounts “generally from a wide range of human activities” air and water can become polluted.
“Marine ecosystems are fragile and, due to the impact of human activity, maintaining their balance is complicated. More so in an area of hydrocarbon exploitation. Any substance alters their balance, in what way? We don’t know yet, research is needed And that is also part of the problem: if we do not know what we have damaged, we cannot know how to repair it, “said Terrazas, who explained that the effects of an accident of this type have different environmental and social aspects that must be analyzed and addressed.
Although Pemex communicated that the “environmental damage” was avoided, Terrazas said that this statement is very hasty since the oil company does not have the evidence to support it and it is not known on what Pemex relied to affirm that the environmental damage was avoided.
“If they claim there was no environmental damage, they must tell us what study or investigation they were based on,” Terrazas said.
CNN reached out to Pemex, but the company did not respond to a request for comment until now.