News Stories

Bacteria Gobbled it Up

That BP Oil spill (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show) did some awful things to the Gulf. But now it turns out that, over a period of 5 months, naturally-occurring bacteria in the water ate it all up.

The bacteria consumed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed into the deep Gulf from the ruptured well head.

Researcher John Kessler says, "A significant amount of the oil and gas that was released was retained within the ocean water more than one-half mile below the sea surface. It appears that the hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers." That will certainly help the people of the sea (NOTE: Subscribers can still listen to this show too).

Kessler says, "Interestingly, the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead. While there is still much to learn about the appropriateness of using dispersants in a natural ecosystem, our results suggest it made the released hydrocarbons more available to the native Gulf of Mexico microorganisms." In other words, man and microbes teamed up to clean up the mess.

Measurements indicated that the consumption of the oil and gas by bacteria in the deep Gulf had stopped by September 2010, five months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Kessler says, "It is unclear if this indicates that this great feast was over by this time or if the microorganisms were simply taking a break before they start on dessert and coffee."

Hooray for bacteria and how they help us. It's not all germs out to make us sick.

On the downer side, the researchers estimated that 40% of the hydrocarbons remained. It wasn't all gobbled up. There was and probably is still a lot there, and there have been negative impacts, such as high numbers of mutated and contaminated shrimp. Plus, the dispersants may have helped some bacteria feed on the oil, but they also contaminated other organisms. Contaminants can still be concentrating through the food web. Also, the pulse of food and bacteria means less oxygen in the water for some time, which has it's own effects.

I hope that the conditions and location allow for a quick recovery, but that is unknown. The effects may be felt for decades, as they are still being felt after the Exxon Valdez in Alaska.

Subscribe to Unknowncountry sign up now