A lightning strike was what ultimately sparked the whirling fireball on the surface of the Gulf of Mexico that shocked people around the world late last week, according to the Mexican state-owned petrol company.
The fire broke out early in the morning of 2 July, after lightning struck gas that had leaked from a pipeline up to the surface of the water near the Yucatan peninsula, Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) said in a statement on Monday, adding that no oil had been spilled during the breakdown.
The company plans further investigations into the incident, during which the fire was put out in about five hours, without injury to any personnel. PEMEX also suggested that its “immediate actions to control the fire” meant it had “avoided environmental damage,” though many have taken issue with this claim, since undersea gas leaks have been shown to grievously harm ocean lifeforms.
While lightning was the direct cause of the fire, environmental groups in Mexico said that this latest catastrophic breakdown of fossil fuel infrastructure in the Gulf represented a larger “ecocide” the industry has conducted against the planet by perpetuating the climate crisis.
A coalition, including Greenpeace Mexico and others, released a set of demands on Monday criticising PEMEX, one of the 10 largest fossil fuel producers in the world, and calling on the Mexican government to “cease the ecocide caused by the petroleum industry, reduce investments in this sector, and establish a clear plan to achieve a just energy transition.”
The initial rupture took place at PEMEX’s flagship Ku Maloob Zaap oilfield, which produces more than 40 per cent of the firm’s 1.7 million barrels of daily output. PEMEX has a long history of spills and other breakdowns at its facilities. In 1979, its Ixtoc I oil well in the Gulf caused one of the worst oil spills in history, while a series of explosions relating to gasoline in the city of Guadalajara’s sewers in 1992 killed hundreds of people.
But changing the oil giant to be part of a post-oil future for the climate will be a tall order. It has been an important symbol of Mexican autonomy and national pride since it was created in 1938, and now employs nearly 151,000 people while supplying almost a fifth of Mexico’s national revenue.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has made reviving the company, which is heavily indebted and owns a number of aging refineries, a key part of his agenda.