Is the Gulf of Mexico Still on Fire? The Pipeline Ocean Fire, Explained

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Jul. 5 2021, Published 1:36 p.m. ET

If you thought the biggest fire this July would be Independence Day fireworks, think again. 

Over the holiday weekend, a leaky gas pipeline caused an ocean fire in the Gulf of Mexico. You read that right: in a massive, open, body of water, a fire raged on for hours, as a product of the fossil fuel industry. Keep reading for everything you need to know about the pipeline leak, the fire, and how everything turned out, as well as photos and videos of the shocking event.

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A burst pipeline caused an ocean fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

At around 5:15 a.m. on Friday, July 2, a 12-inch gas pipeline that runs beneath the Campeche Sound in the Gulf of Mexico leaked gas into the ocean, according to Pemex, the Mexican oil monopoly that manages the pipeline. The gas leak sparked a fire, which quickly turned into a shocking sight: a ring of fire in the middle of the ocean.

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Images and videos of the floating fire quickly surfaced, causing worldwide alarm. In many of the photos, you can see the fire surrounded by boats attempting to extinguish the flames, using a combination of water and nitrogen, as per PetaPixel

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Pemex stated that “the incident was dealt with immediately” with no injuries reported, and about 5.5 hours later, at around 10:45 a.m., the company resumed pumping gas through the pipeline. While it’s good that Pemex was able to repair the situation fairly quickly, it’s very alarming that the pipeline was up and running so quickly, as another fire could easily happen again.

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Environmentalists pointed out the need to rethink fossil fuels.

Various environmental organizations took this moment to point out the dangers of the fossil fuel industry, and call for a shift to renewable energy.

“The risk that oil facilities and their low maintenance imply for the environment is evident,” said Greenpeace Mexico in a statement. “As part of the fossil fuel extractivist model, these are the risks we face on a daily basis and which call for a change in the energy model,” added Greenpeace Mexico Executive Director, Gustavo Ampugnani.

Extinction Rebellion responded to the ocean fire on Twitter: “If you want to stop deathmongers creating hell we all need to act.” And on Instagram, XR added that we should remember this incident "the next time governments try to gaslight us into thinking fossil fuel extraction is safe." The group believes that non-violent direct action is the key to convincing governments and fossil fuel companies to change their ways.

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Pipelines are bad for the environment and for people.

In addition to polluting the planet with emissions — and the apparent threat of ocean fires — pipelines are bad for the environment, wildlife, and people in numerous ways. Pipeline leaks and ruptures are common, due to insufficient regulation, according to the NRDC. When oil leaks or spills from a pipeline, it can pollute the water and the environment, killing wildlife and causing public health issues to people who live in surrounding areas. 

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Gas pipeline explosions often happen without warning and are extremely dangerous — many have killed people who were above underground pipeline explosions, as per ProPublica. Pipelines run beneath millions of miles of American soil, many of which are near Black, Brown, low-income, and Indigenous communities, serving as an example of environmental injustice and racism. 

Could this be the wake-up call to end the climate crisis?

Many people shared images, videos, and stories about the ocean fire over the weekend, imploring their friends and social media followers to pay attention to the climate crisis. While it would be nice to think that this ocean fire may finally be the wake-up call to get the masses to finally care about saving the planet, we’ve seen this film before — and we didn’t like the ending.

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Something similar happened with the 2019 Amazon rainforest fires. Footage of the horrifying fires and deforestation plaguing the Amazon — caused by developers who commonly set the rainforest on fire to make room to raise cattle for meat and dairy, harvest palm oil, and more — temporarily had people around the globe gripped by the devastating power of the corporate greed that fuels the climate crisis. For a moment, it felt like billions of people had finally become dedicated environmentalists.

But no matter how many people have a moment of compassion for the victims of the climate crisis, 1. Many of them will soon forget without making any changes, and 2. Individual changes, while very important, are not enough to entirely stop the fossil fuel industry. To end the climate crisis and keep the public safe, we need major governments to order corporations to regulate polluting activities, and that starts with keeping the oil and gas in the ground

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