ON THE BEACH
Who is responsible for the world's largest oil spill?
The following is a direct transcript of Blow-out:
A Special Report on the Ixtoc I oil spill, which
aired on KUHT-TV in early January. Susan
Wright moderated the program, which was developed, written and produced by Kevin
Caffrey; Virginia Mampre, KUHT program
director, was executive producer.
Susan Wright, Moderator: Since June 3 of last
year, a Mexican-owned and -operated oil well in
the Gulf of Mexico has spewed thousands of
barrels of crude into the Gulf. All efforts to
cap the runaway well have failed. Not even
renowned oil fire fighter, Red Adair, has been
able to stem the constant flow of oil and
natural gas. There is no telling if and when the
well will be capped. Meanwhile, residents of the
south Texas coast have lost millions of dollars
in tourist revenues. Fishermen are wondering if the spill will damage future shrimp and
redfish crops. Charges and counter-charges
over liability for damages have swelled print
and television news reports since August.
Lawsuits have been lodged against the Mexican oil and drilling companies, and against
SEDCO, the drilling contracting firm founded
by Texas Governor Bill Clements. But throughout the entire episode, the frightening spectre
of future spills has been foremost in everybody's minds.
Ken Biglane, Director of the Division of Oil and
Special Materials Control, E.P.A. Co-Chair,
National Response Team: We do have fine
technology in this country, but let me state
emphatically that there is no nation in the
world that has the capability to deal with the
amount of oil on the high seas that has impacted the Gulf of Mexico. The technology in
the world is just not there. The best we can do
is to hope to minimize the effects of the oil
that does reach our continental shelf areas, our
estuary areas, and, finally, our shoreline. The
best way to minimize damage, of course, in
these kinds of instances, is not to let them
happen in the first place.
Wright: Despite the considerable damage caused
by the spill, Mexican leaders have reason to
rejoice. The vast quantities of oil escaping from
the well confirm their belief that the Bay of
Campeche holds unequaled hydrocarbon deposits. Officials now estimate that nearly 800
million barrels of crude lie beneath the
damaged well head. Moreover, total proven
reserves for the entire Bay of Campeche are
now listed at over 10 million barrels. For a
nation that has faced severe economic conditions for many years, oil could provide a solid
foundation for a secure future.
Jose Portillo, President of Mexico: We want to
make oil the (route to) the development of
the country. The plans we have . . . make it
possible for us to have energy available in sufficient amounts for our development; and the
surplus will be exported. On both of these
points, we are certain that the plans we are
drawing up will permit us in the following years
to solve the basic problems of our country-
Wright: Oil-dependent countries such as the
United States and Japan are anxiously anticipating the continued development of the Mexican oil industry. Many feel that Mexico's huge
reserves will buy the time needed to refine
alternative energy sources. . . We'll look at the
immediate effects of the blowout, and Mexico's reaction to its new-found wealth.
During the first days of the blowout disaster, the runaway well, called Ixtoc I, was one
of 18 wells in the Bay of Campeche belonging
to PEMEX, Mexico's nationalized oil company. No one imagined that the blowout would
be uncappable, or that the resulting spill would'
become the largest ever recorded.
Oil gushed from the ocean floor at the rate
of 30,000 barrels a day. On June 27th, oil fire
fighter Red Adair and his crew managed to
deactivate the flow from the well. An hour
later, it blew out again. Adair immediately
called for the drilling of two relief wells.
These wells would intercept the crude and
divert it to nearby tankers. PEMEX officials
cautioned, however, that the relief wells would
not be in operation before early fall. In the
meantime, two million barrels of crude could
be expected to spill into the Gulf.
In July, owners of the drilling rig presented
a theory explaining the cause of the blowout.
On June 3, the drill bit had actually penetrated
a formation containing nearly 800 barrels of
oil. Once the bit hit this open space, the drilling
mud used to send residue to the surface
streamed out of the drill shaft. Drilling stopped
immediately. After a period of time, workers
on the rig started to withdraw the drill bit to
assess the problem. As the withdrawal began,
blowout stage one was reached: the drilling
pipe was raised to the upper sections of the rig.
The thicker drill collar was elevated to a height
just above the surface of the water. Unfortunately, the drill collar was at the same level
as the standard blowout preventor, or B.O.P.
when stage two began.
Two sections of the drill pipe had stuck
together and workers were unable to pull all
of the pipe onto the rig. The remaining drill
pipe started banging against the rig. The resulting sparks ignited natural gas that had flowed
through the drill shaft to the surface. Normally,
the blowout preventor would have sheared
off the drilling pipe and stopped the flow of
gas. But the preventor was not designed to cut
pipe as thick as the drill collar. The fire raged
out of control. The derrick started to melt
down and the spider deck ignited.
Workers were forced to abandon the rig.
The fire continued to spread, and the derrick
completely melted away. The remaining pipe
on the rig slid into the water, knocking the
B.O.P. out of line by about 10 degrees.
Red Adair's efforts had failed because the
preventor was out of skew. He was able to cap
the top of the B.O.P. but within an hour, the
pressure grew so intense that the oil and gas
began to flow directly from the floor of the
bay. Capping the gusher was now virtually
Once Red Adair's efforts failed, grim
reality set in. Oil was still spewing from the well
at a rate of 30,000 barrels a day. PEMEX of-