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Leaky Gas Pipeline Sparks an Inferno in the Gulf of Mexico

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A leak in an underwater gas pipe sparked a swirling fire that raged for hours in the Gulf of Mexico on Friday, creating a biblical scene that drew comparisons to Mordor, the volcanic hellscape from “The Lord of the Rings.”

The circular inferno formed at 5:15 a.m. after a pipeline about 12 inches in diameter leaked, according to a statement from Petróleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly, which controls the pipeline.

Video footage of the fire showed ships dousing water onto the flames. The fire was finally extinguished at 10:45 a.m. and valves connected to the pipeline were shut off, according to a statement from the company.

Pemex said that no one was injured and that it would investigate the cause of the leak, which occurred in an underwater pipeline 150 meters from a platform at Ku-Maloob-Zaap, an offshore oil field in the Bay of Campeche.

“These are the risks we face on a daily basis and which call for a change in the energy model,” Gustavo Ampugnani, executive director of Greenpeace Mexico, said in a statement.

Chris Robbins, senior manager for science initiatives at the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, said Pemex should investigate whether any other infrastructure was compromised. Researchers should be allowed to explore the area to assess any damage to marine life, he said.

“The footage is pretty alarming: It looks like the gates of hell are opening up,” Mr. Robbins said. “This appears to have been snuffed out pretty quickly, but I do think it raises those questions. As long as we’re drilling for oil and natural gas, these kind of accidents, unfortunately, are going to continue to occur.”

After President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico took office in 2018, he announced his intention to spend billions of dollars strengthening the dominance of the country’s state-owned energy companies. At the same time, he has spurned most new foreign investment in energy — whether it involves oil exploration or private wind farms.

He has said he wants to restore Pemex’s former status as a national oil company that made Mexico self-sufficient in energy and provided hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs.

But critics have warned Mr. López Obrador that he is sinking public money into reviving an industry that is being overtaken by new, cleaner technology.

Pemex has also been troubled by debt, mismanagement and corruption.

In 2019, Pemex carried $107 billion in debt, making it the world’s most indebted oil company.



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