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Urtabulak and Ixtoc — two obscure names that can be found in the dusty (and unread) journals of historic blunders. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s go back 47 years and see how little we’ve learned.
In 1963, a natural gas well in Urtabulak (southern Uzbekistan) burst into flames, shooting a burning pillar 400 feet into the air. The Soviets had not developed sufficient control mechanisms and so it burned for three years with 12 million cubic meters of gas burning every day (over three cubic miles of gas burned). After countless attempts and strategies to quell the fire, the Soviets finally found a solution in 1966 ... they nuked the well. As drastic as that may sound, it worked.
In 1979, an offshore oilrig (named Ixtoc) in the Bay of Campeche in the Gulf of Mexico exploded and leaked oil into the gulf for nine months, spilling a total of 150 million gallons of oil. The efforts to stop the leak were identical to those used by BP over the past month (submersible robots, dispersants, burning it off, boom floats, a huge containment dome, a heavy dumping cover and finally drilling relief wells).
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