A gas leak from an underwater pipeline in the Gulf of Mexico caused a raging fire on the ocean surface Friday, Reuters reported. The fire, which burned west of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, was extinguished hours later, state oil company Pemex told the publication.
Twitter user Manuel López San Martín shared videos of the fire, including a shot of boats working to put out the flames.
The fire started in an underwater pipeline connecting to a platform at Pemex’s Ku Maloob Zaap oil development, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. Workers controlled the fire using nitrogen, a source said. There were reportedly no injuries.
How can the ocean catch fire?
The powerful images circulating on social media are often accompanied by the proclamation that the ocean is on fire. I don’t want to speak to Neil deGrasse Tyson in full here, but how this could happen is worth taking a look at.
The fire itself is occurring on the surface, as Simon George, a professor of organic geochemistry at Macquarie University in Australia, explains. “The fire was caused by methane and probably other components of the wet gas (ethane, propane, etc.) that ignited on the ocean surface after a pipeline leak,” he told CNET by email.
It suggests that there must have been a continuous enough stream of natural gas in one place to sustain the fire and keep it moving, resulting in the wild footage you can see above. And while a continuous stream of methane is problematic, it is a greenhouse gas, he points out that the fire may have helped contain some of the damage.
“One good thing about the fire is that it consumed some of the hydrocarbons that escaped,” he said.
Reuters reports that company workers used nitrogen to control the fire.
An incident report shared with Reuters reportedly read: “The turbomachine at the active Ku Maloob Zaap production facilities was affected by a thunderstorm and heavy rain.”
Pemex told Reuters it would investigate what led to the incident. Pemex did not immediately respond to CNET’s request for comment.