Lightning bolt ignited undersea fireball, Mexico oil company says

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MEXICO CITY — Mexico’s state-owned oil company said Monday that a bizarre chain of events, including a lightning storm and a simultaneous gas pipeline leak, set off a strange subaquatic fireball seen last week in the Gulf of Mexico.

Petroleos Mexicanos said an intense storm of rain and lightning on July 2 forced the company to shut off pumping stations serving the offshore rig near where the fire occurred.

Simultaneously, the leak in an underwater pipeline allowed natural gas to build up on the ocean floor and once it rose to the surface, it was probably ignited by a lightning bolt, the company said.

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Pemex sent fire control boats to pump more water over the flames and no one was injured in the incident in the offshore Ku-Maloob-Zaap field. It said no crude oil was spilled. Pemex said it was repairing the pumps and investigating the cause of the gas leak.

The accident unleashed a subaquatic fireball that appeared to boil the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and drew a hail of criticism from environmentalists.

Greenpeace Mexico said the fire, which took five hours to extinguish, “demonstrates the serious risks that Mexico’s fossil fuel model poses for the environment and people’s safety.”

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President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has bet heavily on drilling more wells and buying or building oil refineries. He touts oil as “the best business in the world.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg reposted a video clip of the fireball on her Twitter account.

“Meanwhile the people in power call themselves ‘climate leaders’ as they open up new oilfields, pipelines and coal power plants — granting new oil licenses exploring future oil drilling sites,” Thunberg wrote. “This is the world they are leaving for us.”

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