The Deepwater Horizon rig wasn't the first to explode and spew oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Scientists are looking back to a 1979 disaster that, they tell the Miami Herald , offers insight into the current disaster. “Everybody keeps saying the spill is unprecedented,” says one geologist. “That is such bullshit. We had perfect precedence.” The Ixtoc I, a Mexican-owned well, dumped 138 million gallons into the Gulf over 9 months.
“It coated the Texas beaches in a ribbon of oil 30 to 50 feet” wide, one researcher recalls, costing area restaurants and hotels millions, before tropical storms finally cleared the beaches. The well was capped with a cement plug. The Ixtoc was the largest accidental spill ever, but Deepwater Horizon could overtake it. BP says it's leaking "only" 210,000 gallons a day, but scientists say it's closer to 4 million.