The Ixtoc Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

The Ixtoc I oil rig in the Bay of Campeche, Gulf of Mexico, exploded on the morning of 3 June 1979 and released large amounts of oil into the marine environment. The problems began on 2 June 1979 when drilling reached a depth of 3,615 meters and the rig began to lose circulation. Despite several attempts to regain circulation on the “stable” well, the decision was made to seal the well and plug the empty space. The next day, during attempts to seal the well, high pressure caused mud to flow up the drill pipe onto the platform and it caught fire. The explosion destroyed the platform, beginning the largest marine oil spill in the history of oil exploration. When the well was finally capped on 23 March 1980, approximately 475,000 tons of oil had been lost. The oil polluted the majority of the offshore region of the Gulf of Mexico, coastal beaches, and the Texas coast. The Campeche Bay shrimp ecosystem, an important good for export, was most affected by the oil pollution. A shrimp harvesting ground of 15,000 square kilometers was poisoned. This was especially damaging to larvae and juvenile shrimp, which are highly sensitive to oil contamination. 

Contributed by Cassandra Denger
Course: Global Environmental History
Instructor: Andrew Stuhl, Ph.D.
Bucknell University, Lewisburg, US

Further Readings: 
  • Jernelöv, Arne, and Lindén Olof. "Ixtoc I: a Case Study of the World's Largest Oil Spill." In: Ambio: a Journal of the Human Environment. 10.6 (1981): 299-306
  • Jernelöv, Arne. "The Threats from Oil Spills: Now, Then, and in the Future." Ambio: A Journal of the Human Environment 39, no. 6 (2010): 353–66.