The Short-Term Consequences of The Other Massive Gulf Oil Spill


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.

Read it here.

NEXT: Feds: Fatty Meat Is Bad for You. Now Shut Up and Eat Your Government-Provided Fatty Meat.

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  1. Every “environmental disaster” causes “permanent destruction of the ecosystem.”

    That is a given until it is forgotten.

  2. The biggest error made by the contemporary environmental movement is underestimating the toughness and resilience of life.

    1. Yeah life in general. Do I get to shoot you and justify it by the fact that life, indeed, will go on?

      1. Tony, I wouldn’t suggest that on this site.

        Many of the posters are better armed and have much better aim than you ever will.

        1. And much smaller penises.

          1. Who do you suppose is more dangerous: an armed man with a tiny penis, or an armed man with a giant floppy horsecock?

            1. Thanks for the visual.

          2. And much smaller penises.

            So you can suck it?

    2. You assume they mean what they say. Nobody gives a shit about putting their people in charge of things, unless their people are the only ones who can prevent cute otters from drowning in evil oil.

  3. We have short memories, and never learn anything.
    What do you want from us, Reason?!

  4. Wasn’t there a recent story on the Exxon Valdez, that while everything looked back to normal, the reporter took a shovel and a few inches down there still was a heavy layer of oil? Something like that.

  5. Oh man – Rush was talking about this today! He also pointed out that if you add up all the water in the gulf, and compare it to the amount of oil in there – it would be like a drop from an eye dropper in a bathtub. Extreme greenies just don’t get it!

    1. So now Limbaugh is a marine biologist? Far out!


  6. The media, I’ve noticed, always gives the Gulf spill’s size in multiples of Valdez. “An Ixtoc or so, if nobody stops it anytime soon” doesn’t remind anyone of that dish soap commercial. And people might get all “WTF’s an Ixtoc?” and read about how it wasn’t the apocalypse. That’s not allowed.

    1. But Ixtoc was owned and operated by a 100% state-owned oil company. A state-owned oil company would never take shortcuts and therefore Ixtoc was an unavoidable tragedy.

  7. Indeed…wiping out life in an area is very very hard to do. So, of course, we shouldn’t worry about the damage done by something like this. I mean, sure the sea turtles were ALMOST wiped out, but they hung on…so, of course, they will be able to hang on again, and again, and again.


    1. There is a difference between not worrying about and not freaking out about it.

      I never understood the worry about a nuclear war wiping us all out, seemed a highly unlikely event. I true to worry about the high probability stuff.

      1. I never understood the worry about a nuclear war wiping us all out, seemed a highly unlikely event. I true to worry about the high probability stuff.

        A nuclear war, even during the height of the Cold War, would not have wiped everyone out. A few hundred million people sure, but not everyone.

        AIDS going airborne would kill more people.

        1. A few hundred million people sure, but not everyone.

          No, not everyone, but the survivors would envy the dead.

          1. “Mr. President, I’m not saying we wouldn’t get our hair mussed.”

    2. So, of course, we shouldn’t worry about the damage done by something like this.

      No one is saying that, of course, but what we should be doing is drilling closer to shore, for starters.

    3. Its called putting things in perspective, jackass.

    4. age done by something like this. I mean, sure the sea turtles were ALMOST wiped out, but they hung on…so, of course, they will be able to hang on again, and again, and again.


      So lame it didn’t even register.

  8. The spill is, like, 100 times the size of Rhode Island!

    1. Pssh. My 1/2 acre lot is 3 times the size of Rhode Island.

  9. Those better not be volunteers on the beach in that picture.

  10. But within a couple of years, almost everything was close to 100 percent normal again.

    That means the Gulf will be lookin’ good just in time for Barack’s 2012 campaign commercials.

  11. I remember watching something recent about how amazingly well things recovered in the Persian/Arabian Gulf after Saddam tried to obliterate the world with oil. Basically the entire coast of Saudi was covered, and yet a few years later, life was back doing its thing.

  12. “Texas just made a superhuman effort to keep the oil away from rivers, with two or three or four layers of booms to skim it away,” said Thomas C. Shirley, a biodiversity specialist at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “We know how to clean up beaches, and it’s simple. It’s just sand.”

    “But you get up into wetlands, where you’re cleaning up shrubs and sea grasses, and it’s far more difficult. Everything you’re cleaning is alive, and you have to be careful not to do more harm than good.”

    By keeping oil out of rivers and lagoons, authorities ensured a steady stream of nutrients back into the coastal areas. And as the spill diminished, marine life had a baby boom.

    I think that is another key difference which needs to be mentioned. Beaches can be cleaned up more easily than wetlands. And the Louisiana coast has a lot more wetlands.

    1. So does Texas, but apparently back then we didn’t have to Feds preventing us from doing anything about it.

      1. Most of Texas’ wetlands are buffered by a chain of barrier islands.

  13. The spill is horrible and will affect the economy of the gulf area and the coastal ecosystems for years. But it is not the end of the world and it will get better. I don’t think anyone is really blowing the immediate effects too far out of proportion (well, some people probably are), but at the same time, it is important to realize that it will get better and life will go on.

  14. Also, don’t think of it as choking to death on thick, goopy poison in a desperate and futile attempt to escape the muck our greed has dumped all over an entire ecosystem, think of it as the express lane to pelican heaven.

    1. I go to heaven safe in the knowledge that I died for a green jobs boondoggle.

      1. No one even thinks of me

        1. I was just zipping along trying to find a nut on my break from fucking up code, and then between a big oak and the ground I got sucked in by a windmill.

    2. Yes, we’re all inhuman here. Certainly no one wants to see the environment survive and thrive. In fact, as a group I think we should propose nuking the Gulf from orbit as it will burn the oil off that much faster.

      Or perhaps, Our Dear Leader should get off his ass and be specific about how we should work to fix the immediate problem, instead of searching for someone to blame. There will be plenty of time for beating dirty capitalist pigs over the head later. Average citizens want to know how we are working to fix it right now, not how we are all going to live in some energy-free utopia 30 years from now by contributing our tax dollars to the incumbent re-election slush funds.

    3. Also, don’t think of it as choking to death on thick, goopy poison in a desperate and futile attempt to escape the muck our greed has dumped all over an entire ecosystem, think of it as the express lane to pelican heaven.

      Who owns the pelicans?

    4. I don’t know if it has ever occured to you, but most wild creatures naturally die hideously cruel deaths, even without mankind. Ever see a bear literally eat a fish alive? How about an injured rodent consumed by fire ants? How about an eagle dropping a tortoise onto some rocks from high up in order to crack open its shell? Life and death is no picnic for most living things of the earth. If some of them choke to death on oil, it will be a merciful death compared to what they normally could expect.

      1. Er, the above was for Tony.

      2. .,

        Do you actually believe this crap?
        We are said to be in the middle of the 6th mass extinction, indisputably caused by human activity. Your sociopathic level of moral vapidity might allow you to excuse this further abuse of the natural world, but let’s try not to argue in favor of death by petroleum as a nice alternative to something.

        1. Tony, please stop channeling the irony gods.

        2. There wasn’t much evidence that we were in a “sixth mass extinction” last time that I checked.

  15. Those better not be volunteers on the beach in that picture.

    You can tell its staged, because they are all working. OSHA requires that anyone dressed like that work a 20 minutes on/40 minutes off schedule in the Gulf.

    A real picture wouldn’t show 20 people working and no one standing around. It would show 7 or 8 people working, the rest standing around, and an OSHA weenie with a stopwatch and a clipboard.

    1. If that’s from the 1979 spill then it may be that the rules weren’t as asinine back then. Or, this being Texas, the OSHA ninnie may have been shot.

  16. For starters, the BP well is in much deeper water

    More importantly, the BP well is in US waters and privately owned. Claimants have access to deep pockets without sovereign immunity.

  17. For cryin’ out loud. The BP fuckup (yes this is BP’s disaster and BP should, and will, fucking pay for it) is an aenvironmental disaster any way you look at it. It is not the end of commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico, it is not going to foul the beaches and wetlands for centuries. It is going to disrupt the whole ecosystem and the lives of those who depend on it for 2-10 years though and I consider that more than significant.

    It’s not the end of the world, but a pretty big fucking mess that responsible parties must pay for.

    Back to the endangered species list for the brown pelican.

    Lastly, if you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Keith Olberman for you ecolocical science don’t talk to me. I’ll just call you a fucking yahoo imbecile and look elsewhere for intelligent conversation.

    1. I listen to Al Gore for my ecological science.

  18. Whenever I hear about this being the biggest environmental disaster in US history, I wonder what is considered “environmental”.

    When over 100 million barrels of water spills and kills 2200 people, I guess that’s not an environmental disaster.

    1. The biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history was Three Mile Island. No one was injured and no property outside the reactor was damaged, but it shut down reactor construction for decades.

      The main negative effect of the BP spill will be how long it shuts down oil exploration.

  19. This was talked about in threads past. References to a massive spill in the Gulf during the first Gulf War, it was found that by essientially doing nothing, it cleared up even faster, because they didn’t spew dispersants all over the place, which have their own environmental consequences.

    1. If I recall, I believe that scientists found that about 2 years after the Gulf spill, it was significantly improved, and something like 5 or so years after, evidence of oil damage was all but gone. I may be off with my numbers but I recall that was close to it.

  20. What does this beast from the sea represent?Mmslim Barack Hussein Obama Antichrist! But Antichrist as a world government, a political power, the likes of which this world has never seen. The origin of this beast is the sea, which represents the restless nations and peoples of the earth. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose water cast up mire and dirt.”That the beast has power and a throne and great authority. ,GOD OPEN YOUR EYES.///For us there are only two possiblities: either we remain american or we come under the thumb of the ANTICHRIST Mmslim Barack Hussein OBAMA. This latter must not occur.REPOST THIS IF YOU AGREE. ,THE COMMANDER.

    1. Seek professional help. Immediately.

    2. Yahweh? Is that you?

    3. I think your stash has spoiled. Seek a new dealer.

    4. Gene Ray blesses us with his presence.

  21. What happened to all the oil that was in the thousands of merchant and combat vessels sunk during WWII?

    1. The arabs stole it and put in in the ground under their land.

    2. Much of it burned.

  22. Shush Nick.

    How DARE you mention that this might not be the end of the world.

    After all, it’s PERMANENT damage being done by this EVIL spill, caused by an evil corportaion. And they spilled their shit into a FRAGILE ecosystem (by the way, is there ever a robust ecosystem that is spilled upon?).

    But seriously…..

    Yeah, this spill sucks ass. BP’s going to spend a big chunk of change to clean their shit up. But the end of the world in the gulf? Nope. Won’t be able to tell it happened in 10 years (a blink of the eye in the history of the Gulf).

  23. My letter to Gulf residents.

    The crude oil is toxic, and anyone who cleans the oily Gulf beaches needs to know the danger. Don’t allow the workers to become BP’s Collateral Damaged, like Exxon.

    My name is Merle Savage, a female general foreman during the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS) beach cleanup in 1989. I am one of the 11,000+ cleanup workers from the Exxon Valdez oil spill (EVOS), who is suffering from health issues from that toxic cleanup, without compensation from Exxon.

    Dr. Riki Ott visited me in 2007 to explain about the toxic spraying on the beaches, and informed me that Exxon’s medical records that surfaced in litigation by sick workers in 1994, had been sealed from the public, making it impossible to hold Exxon responsible for their actions.

    Beach crews breathed in crude oil that splashed off the rocks and into the air — the toxic exposure turned into chronic breathing conditions, central nervous system problems, neurological impairment, chronic respiratory disease, leukemia, lymphoma, brain tumors, liver damage, and blood disease.

    My web site is devoted to searching for EVOS cleanup workers who were exposed to the toxic spraying, and are suffering from the same illnesses that I have. There is an on going Longshoreman’s claim for workers with medical problems from the oil cleanup. Our summer employment turned into a death sentence for many ? and a life of unending medical conditions for the rest of Exxon’s Collateral Damaged.

    1. Thanks, for sharing that. Merle.

    2. What does being female have to do with anything? Why put that in your press release? Is Dr. Riki Ott a physician?

      But thanks for the copypasta.

  24. The problem Nick, is that in the last 31 years, we have been treating the environment like shit. Ixtoc was like kicking the gulf ecosystem in the balls we already had it down. Deepwater is like smashing it with a brick after we had beaten, raped, stabbed, and pile driven it repeatedly after Ixtoc. Sooner or later it is going to die.

    Massive overfishing, dead zones, climate change, sinking wetlands…all have gotten much worse since the 70s, and there is no reason to expect anything different in the future.

    1. Life on Earth survived getting hit with a giant fucking meteor. Excuse me for thinking mere humanity is incapable of doing serious permanent damage to life qua life. Species, perhaps even our own, certainly. Life — not so much.

      1. Nobody is arguing otherwise. What, you’ll be happy as long as some microbes survive? Nobody is fucking talking about anything else but preserving humanity, which libertarian isolationist fantasies to the contrary, depends on a fairly stable global environment.

        1. Except that humans live in every corner of the earth, from the colds of Northern Alaska to the hottest parts of the world’s deserts. They all seem to be getting on somehow. Humans need a “stable” climate to live? Since when? Ancient people’s lived in an environment much harsher than the one that we’ve created for ourselves.

          1. No one is predicting the extinction of humans (from environmental causes, at least). However, it is all but certain that we are causing the sixth mass extinction this planet has faced, and we will likely wipe out half or more of the species on earth in the next couple hundred years.

            Btw, there was a nice peer-reviewed article recently that concluded that if we wind up in some of the worst-case scenarios with respect to climate change (by worst-case, I am talking a few percent chance), half of the land on earth will become uninhabitable due to the extreme heat. Exactly how does that fit into your cost-benefit analysis?

            1. Either humans caused five other mass extinctions, which the biosphere recovered from; or there are many factors which can cause mass extinction to which humans can contribute. Neither choice seems to justify the mitigating actions people pushing this meme propose.

  25. Sooner or later it is going to die.

    No, it won’t. We will. But the earth will heal.

    1. Jesus, when government so much as looks at you the wrong way you guys respond with the moral indignation of a charismatic preacher. When an oil company destroys en ecosystem it’s “eh, shit happens.” Are you people serious with this “life will go on” crap? If you’re such an amoral nihilist why do you give a crap what government does?

      1. Is the ecosystem really permanently destroyed?

      2. My guess is that the car you drive or at the very least the public transporation you use, and the home you live in, killed more animals/bugs/habitat than Deepwater will. Perhaps by a large factor.

        Ever consider that when you accuse others of being “amoral?” Literally, while sitting there complaining about the horrors the spill has wreaked on nature, you have killed thousands, if not millions of creatures in your life. You are one of the greatest mass murderers of living things of all time. That you are surrounded by other murderers hardly clears your name.

        That’s the problem with moralizing nature and environmentalism. Pretty much everyone who doesn’t live in a nomadic life in a teepee has killed lots of stuff.

    2. Yeah, it will “heal” – After a few hundred thousand years.

      I am not in the mood to wait that long to recover from a mass extinction.

      1. Jesus…fucking…Christ.

        Is there any end to your fucking bullshit?

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