Not so long time ago when gas at the pump was less than a dollar, a long forgotten offshore oilrig called Ixtoc I sprang a big leak in Mexico. The obscure rig lay in the southern quadrant of the Gulf of Mexico hundreds of miles from American waters and coastline. Approximately 150 million gallons of crude oil, a modest amount by comparison to the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, eventually was dumped into Mexico’s Bay of Campeche. It soon began, pushed by wind, weather, and currents, to make it’s way northward towards the Texas coast.
All the scientific experts in 1979 told the residents of the Gulf coast not to worry about the biggest oil spill in the world. There was no way, they said, that the Ixtoc I spill would ever reach our coastline. But during the months of June and July the biggest oil spill in the world did not listen to our experts as it continued its sluggish march northward towards Brownsville, Corpus Christi, Galveston, Houston, and the 100 resort and fishing communities that lie between these cities.
Ixtoc 1 was owned by Sedco, a drilling company at the time run by Texas Governor Bill Clements. Sedco leased the off shore well to Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.
The slimy goo hit South Padre Island the first week of August, 1979. Tourists were not blind to the disaster; they voted by the tens of thousands to stay away from the stinking quagmire. Politicians declared the disaster never happened. Occasionally sightseers were told to stand back out of their way crews could do their work and, more importantly, not record the extent of the disaster. Since I lived in Brownsville and had recently completed a major study of the shrimping industry, I was one of those sightseers told to get out of the way.
That was 1979. A lot has happened since Ictox I never officially reached the Texas Coast.
The most recent event demanding our scrutiny is the “Transboundary Agreement” reached between the United States and Mexico that regulates oil and gas development in the Gulf of Mexico. The Transboundary Agreement was signed off on by both countries on February 20th, 2012, allowing Pemex to begin deep-water offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a worse case scenario, say one like the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, Pemex thus will be forced to rely on the expertise of our petroleum industry. In today’s world does anyone see potential problems here reaching far beyond environmental impact and the price of gas at the pump?
The world has changed significantly since 1979. For one, the Mexican government cannot control its powerful criminal organizations. Secondly international terrorists are a real threat to our national security and the security of our friends and allies. Just how many terrorists in a small boat would it take to overrun one of Pemex’s deepwater rigs?
Cannibals and Condos, Robert Lee Maril, Texas A&M University Press, 1986.