Reefs with asphalt-like material & tar that still smells like petroleum 30 YEARS after Ixtoc oil disaster in Gulf

Ixtoc spill still contaminates coastlines; is that northern Gulf’s fate?, Press-Register, September 12, 2010:

Upon arriving at Enmedio Island in the Mexican state of Veracruz this June [Texas A&M University researcher Wes Tunnell, who witnessed and studied the Ixtoc oil disaster of 1979] quickly found hardened tar mats — essentially the same material as asphalt spread on highways — among the reefs.

“It was, I’d say, 5 to 10 percent of the size that it was 30 years ago,” Tunnell said. “But the message was, it’s still there.”

Between an inch and three inches thick — compared to the 12-15 inches of its initial thickness — the tar mats were camouflaged by hard and, in some cases, algae-covered, outer shells, Tunnell said.

When it was cracked open, however, the rock’s nature was clear. Tunnell said he could “still see some sheen or shine of the oily material inside of it.” And, “You could smell petroleum if you put it up to your nose, which kind of surprised me after 30 years.”

Read the article here.

3 comments to Reefs with asphalt-like material & tar that still smells like petroleum 30 YEARS after Ixtoc oil disaster in Gulf

  • Yes, sadly enough, that is the fate of the North Gulf, specially with the horrible mismanagement of the disaster. Oil and even chemicals will eventually degrade but these ecological processes only happen through centuries, maybe millennia. A lot depends on the amounts of oil (and other stuff) remaining, the size and importance of the area affected, etc. but it’s not anything trivial. The Gulf is “dead” and will be for a century. It is too late to make anything but demand the heads of the criminal managers of the disaster response and due compensation for the victims.

    Just check this other story in a smaller but very comparably rich bay and wetlands in Brazil.

  • Melted R

    I apologize for the necro, but this doesn’t surprise me a bit. In 2003, I visited the site of a pipeline rupture and spill that had occurred roughly 25 years before the visit. The site was in north-central Minnesota. Pipeline ruptures tend to spill a large amount of oil, pipelines have pumping stations and detecting when a rupture has occurred is one issue, the other far less fun issue is containing the oil still on its way to the ruptured section. Turning off the pumps at all of the upstream stations is a start. There is nothing like a hatch that can close and remain closed with hundreds of tons of oil traveling down the pipeline at a fair clip. A nontrivial amount of oil will end up being spilling out of the rupture even after the leak is detected and the proper measures taken.

    In any case, back when I visited in 2003 the place appeared normal enough, at least initially aside from the absurd number of monitoring wells that had been drilled in order to determine the extent of the groundwater contamination.

    The smell of oil may have been greatly reduced, but the stench was still noticeable. An oily sheen was still visible on the surface of water at a marsh within a short walk of the pipeline. If there is anything fortunate about the event it was that residents with wells used for drinking water were over ten miles away and the underground plume of oil was moving at a speed that would not make itself an issue for the residents for quite a few decades.

    I’m not sure about this, but from what I know of the area’s geology, an affected resident could potentially just drill a new well to a deeper aquifer that was separated from the contaminated surface aquifer by a layer of impermeable material like clay.

  • xdrfox

    Revise law !
    One only has 6 months now to ask the Feds for permission to sue one or more of their agencies !

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