Back in 1979, a Mexican oil well blew out, causing what was then the worst oil disaster in North America.
Reason Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin, writing in The Miami Herald, recalls a spill that went uncapped for 10 months and spewed oil 15 inches thick over 150 miles of Texas beaches. Most amazing was the aftermath:
"The environment is amazingly resilient, more so than most people understand," says Luis A. Soto, a deep-sea biologist with advanced degrees from Florida State University and the University of Miami who teaches at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
"To be honest, considering the magnitude of the spill, we thought the Ixtoc spill was going to have catastrophic effects for decades. ... But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again."
That kind of optimism was unthinkable at the time of the spill, which took nearly 10 months to cap. The 30,000 barrels of oil a day it spewed into the ocean obliterated practically every living thing in its path. As it washed ashore, in some zones marine life was reduced by 50 percent; in others, 80 percent. The female population of an already-endangered species of sea turtles known as Kemp's Ridley shrank to 300, perilously close to extinction.
Garvin notes that there are key differences between the BP and Ixtoc spills. For starters, the BP well is in much deeper water and nobody knows how that will affect the damage caused or any possible recovery. But that story is a pretty damn interesting piece of reporting.