Viral 'Eye of Fire' Video Draws Ire From Environmental Groups

Mexico’s state-owned oil company, PEMEX, said the fire caused no environmental damage but activists have called for an impact assessment.

Pipeline burst


Environmentalists say that a massive blaze near a Gulf of Mexico oil platform captured in a viral video represents an “ecocide” and warned that unless we move away from fossil fuels, this type of accidents will continue to occur.

The “Eye of Fire” clip, which was originally tweeted by Mexican journalist Manuel Lopez San Martin last Friday, has since been viewed more than 72 million times.

A second aerial video showing fire control boats pumping water onto the blaze has been viewed more than 30 million times.

The videos, which show swirling orange flames floating near an oil platform, generated dozens of memes and caught the attention of politicians and environmental activists.

Greta Thunberg tweeted: “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. This is the world they are leaving for us.”

PEMEX, Mexico’s state-controlled energy company, said the fire was caused by a leak in an underwater pipe. “The gas moved from the oceanfloor to the surface, where it was set ablaze by lightning,” the oil giant said in a statement. 

The blaze was brought under control about five hours after it started. 

"There was no oil spill and the quick action taken to control the surface fire avoided environmental damage," PEMEX said.

But several environmental groups issued a statement calling on PEMEX to carry out “a thorough assessment to determine the impacts of the fire, as well as a plan to repair the environmental and social damage.”

The statement, which was signed by Greenpeace and, among other environmental groups, argued that the accident is part of an ongoing “ecocide” perpetrated by fossil fuel companies. 

Last month, in a bid to get “ecocide” recognized as an international crime, a panel of 12 lawyers from around the world established the legal definition of the term: “Ecocide means unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

Mexico bets on fossil fuels

The accident has shined a light on PEMEX, which ranks No. 9 in the list of fossil fuel companies with the highest greenhouse gas emissions by the Climate Accountability Institute

Environmental groups argue that PEMEX’s infrastructure is old and in a state of disrepair, making it more vulnerable to accidents. There have been at least six incidents, including fires and oil spills, in PEMEX-run facilities since January 2019.

PEMEX executives have long faced accusations of corruption, the company is laden with more than $100 billion in debt, and its oil production has fallen to historically low levels. 

Greenpeace this week called on Mexico to move away from fossil fuels and transition toward solar and wind, which produce virtually no carbon emissions compared to fossil fuels.

The organization argued that unless we cancel fossil fuels, this type of accident will continue to happen—it’s worth noting that according to official statistics there are about 100 fires a year on offshore platforms in the U.S. but they rarely make headlines. 

China, the U.S., and the European Union have announced plans to slash emissions from electricity generation by building new solar and wind farms. But instead of embracing green energy, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador rolled out reforms that prioritize domestic coal and oil production. 

“Mexico is quickly moving in the wrong direction on climate action by not seeking to further decarbonize its power sector and enhance deployment of ever-cheaper sources of domestic, renewable energy,” Jeremy Martin, the Vice-President of Energy & Sustainability at the Institute of the Americas, told Forbes back in April. 

López Obrador's policies pave the way for the state-controlled Comisión Federal de Electricidad to continue relying on fossil to generate electricity. Mexico, a country of nearly 130 million people, currently produces about three-quarters of its electricity by burning natural gas, oil, and coal.

Before López Obrador took office in December 2018, green energy companies were attracted to Mexico’s plentiful renewable energy resources and low production costs but the leftist leader has canceled energy auctions for new renewable energy projects, alienating foreign investors. In May, the International Energy Agency described its outlook for Mexico’s renewable energy sector as “pessimistic.”