explainer

'Portal to Hell': The story behind this viral video of a fire in the Gulf of Mexico.

The ocean on fire? It seems like a scientific oxymoron. But over the weekend, it happened.

You've likely seen the video of volcanic-like flames sparking out of the ocean. The striking videos show ships - dwarfed by the size of the blaze - dousing water onto the orange swell that resembles molten lava.

Some people online, where the videos have been widely circulated, have called it a "portal to Hell" or "eye of fire".

So what exactly was this, and how did it happen?

In the Gulf of Mexico, the inferno formed on the surface of the ocean at about 5:15 a.m on Friday morning local time.

The blaze was caused by a leak in an underwater gas pipeline, controlled by Pemex - Mexico’s state-owned oil monopoly. The burst in the valve triggered an explosion and the resulting fire on the surface. It occurred about 400 meters from the Ku-Charly oil production platform. 

The fire took five hours to be extinguished, using nitrogen. No injuries or deaths have been reported, but the impact on the local marine life is yet unknown.  

Angel Carrizales, the head of Mexico’s oil safety regulator ASEA, said on Twitter that the incident “did not generate any [oil] spill," but did not explain what was burning.

Online, many people pointed out the inherent danger in permitting oil companies to drill into fossil fuel reserves from the ocean floor.

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Pemex has a problematic history of dangerous and deadly industrial incidents occurring under their supervision - or lack of. Most recently, in 2015, four workers were killed and a further 16 were injured due to an explosion on the company’s Abkatun A-Permanente platform in the Gulf of Mexico.

Greenpeace Mexico has said this incident "is a clear example that the energy production model based on fossil fuels is inoperative and poses serious risks to the environment".

The environmental group continued: "The problem is that we continue to use fossil fuels, instead of resorting to renewable energy."

Mexico is the world’s 10th largest producer of oil, and in 2017 accounted for about one third of the government's total revenue.

Here's how people are reacting online.

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Feature image: Twitter.