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The Gulf of Campeche, Ixtoc-1, and Deepwater Horizon

Leila Landress:

Relief-Well Plan Was Used in Worst Blowout Ever, Took 9 Months: The worst blowout on record took about nine months to cap using two relief wells.... In 1979, Ixtoc-1, an exploratory well owned by Petroleos Mexicanos in 150 feet of water, blew out 600 miles (966 kilometers) south of Texas in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche and spilled an estimated 3.3 million barrels into the Gulf, according to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences and the American Petroleum Institute.... The oil and natural gas blowing out of Ixtoc-1 ignited, causing the platform to catch fire.... Two wells were drilled to relieve pressure from Ixtoc-1 so that it could be capped, according to NOAA....

The differences between the two spills are more worrisome than the similarities, said Boehm, who is now principal scientist at Exponent.... The oil from Ixtoc-1 took two months to be transported, which changed the composition of the crude and made it less toxic, Boehm said. The length of time allowed U.S. responders to prepare for the spill. The composition of the oil from the BP well will be different, Boehm said. “The oil has been out there eight days now,” he said. “The more it weathers, the less toxic it is.”

About 71,500 barrels of oil from Ixtoc-1 affected 162 miles of U.S. beaches and more than 10,000 cubic yards of oiled material were removed, according to the Industry Technical Advisory Committee, a U.K.-based oil-spill organization of technical experts. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service used volunteers for handling oiled birds and beach patrols on South Padre Island. “This will be a lot worse,” said Miles Hayes, a coastal geologist with Research Planning Inc. in Columbia, South Carolina, who studied the Ixtoc-1 spill. The oil from the Ixtoc-1 spill hit the 90-miles of Texas barrier islands, protecting the environmentally fragile marsh lands from the spill, Hayes said in a phone interview. “You want to keep the oil from getting past the barrier islands,” Hayes said. “After Ixtoc, in Texas it wasn’t too tough because we had only three inlets. Louisiana is a different scenario.”

Deepwater Horizon is currently at perhaps a quarter of Ixtoc-1...