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Biotech Earth Science

Can Oil-Eating Bacteria Help Clean Up the Gulf Oil Spill? 139

Posted by Soulskill
from the if-only-we-hadn't-converted-to-green-bacteria dept.
sciencehabit writes "At this point it's unclear how much of an environmental threat oil spreading from the BP spill will cause, but the federal government is mobilizing thousands of workers to prepare for the worst. They have a potential ally: microbes that have evolved an ability to break down oil that seeps from the ocean bottom. It gets devoured by a variety of bacteria, which eat it by chemically transforming its compounds into useful cellular constituents." Wired has some pictures of the spill from orbiting satellites.
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Can Oil-Eating Bacteria Help Clean Up the Gulf Oil Spill?

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  • Poop (Score:5, Funny)

    by Donoho (788900) on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:36PM (#32050146) Homepage
    I'd say it depends on what they poop.
  • Of course (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:36PM (#32050150)
    Humans always have good luck introducing a new species into an untested environment. *popcorn*
    • Re:Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by FooAtWFU (699187) on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:47PM (#32050290) Homepage
      It would be difficult, if not impossible, for it be much worse than introducing a few million gallons of crude oil into the same environment.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by tool462 (677306)

        We, as a species, have a record of doing the difficult, if not impossible, and often by accident. I, too, would like some of the AC's popcorn.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        so you choose the famous last words "can't get worse, right?"

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DarkOx (621550)

        I am not sure you can just make that statement. You are going to have a few million gallons of putrefying bacteria in that same environment when the food runs out. That could be plenty unpleasant. When its all said and done that bacteria may or may not have turned the oil into something more easily metabolized by other flora and fonna that was already there. You will then have subsequent explosions in some populations and declines in others. The entire ecology could be way out of balance for a very lon

      • I don't really see what the problem is. The oil came straight from the ground, right? So it's all-natural. I say leave it as it is, kinda like how they let Yellowstone burn a decade or two back. Let nature take her course and all.

        Yes, this is a joke.
      • You could not possibly be any more wrong. I think you just lack imagination.

        Oil is dead. It just floats there and ends up on whatever solid sucks it up.

        Bacteria on the other hand are reproducing full life-forms. They can do so much more, it’s not even funny.
        Like growing so much from the oil, that their volume now is that of the oil PLUS that of some water and their own weight. And then they feed on everything that they can. Or in other words: A green goo plague scenario.

        No thanks.

    • by Jeng (926980)

      Haven't we been using bacteria to eat oil spills ever since the Valdez incident?

      I'm thinking this is a tried and true method of dealing with oil spills at this point.

    • by DeroA (1795018)
      This sounds like grey goo to me. Next thing you know the bacteria will mistakenly start eating all carbon based objects and destroy the world!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by interkin3tic (1469267)

      Humans always have good luck introducing a new species into an untested environment

      Sounds like these bacteria are already in the ocean, eating naturally occouring oil leaking out of the earth. I suspect that the reason you don't find these bacteria already out there in the gulf of mexico would be that their food usually ISN'T there, not that these or similar bacteria haven't ever been introduced there.

      Having said that, it takes remarkable arrogance to suggest testing that theory on a massive scale. Who are these people using the environment as a lab anyway... oh right, it's the oil comp

  • Free BP brand sunscreen for everyone. Just reach down and smear a tar like glob on your face. The article made it pretty clear the bacteria is not a solution. Neither is burning. This will be an environmental disaster. Too late to stop it now. Thanks BP.
    • Accidents happen. You'd be as quick with the "Thanks BP" if it were an Exxon or Shell or whatever rig.

      This is a catastrophe and all current rigs need to be fully inspected before another one happens (and it will).

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by PSandusky (740962)

        Accidents happen. You'd be as quick with the "Thanks BP" if it were an Exxon or Shell or whatever rig.

        This is a catastrophe and all current rigs need to be fully inspected before another one happens (and it will).

        The kicker, I think, is that the damn things weren't already up for these kinds of inspections long before now. It's a pipe, drilled into the seabed, with a metal/concrete structure extending above the surface of the water and holding the pipe upright. It's also in a hurricane zone. Saying that they need to be inspected now is nice and all, but it's nothing short of criminal that they weren't taken care of well before the spill happened. They could have been inspected, should have been inspected, and I will

        • Re:Why so serious? (Score:5, Informative)

          by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:06PM (#32051142)

          Those aren't just plain jane pipes stuck in the mud, they are loaded to the gills with failsafes. The other fail-safes worked (with regards to capping the well, anyway) but they were all topside on the rig, and so obviously they did no good when the rig burned down. The pipe eventually fell over with no rig to support it, creating the current break in the pipe.

          There is actually a fail-safe sitting on the sea floor on this particular pipe just in case this exact situation. It operates a lot like some electronic/mechanical fail-safes where if the electrical connection is lost it triggers an unstoppable mechanical shutdown. The fail-safe in one this pipes require a certain amount of pressure flowing through the pipe, or it will hydraulically crimp the pipe closed. For some reason, it did never triggered, nobody yet knows why (my money is a pressure calculation mistake when setting up the tolerances).

          What you can definitely blame BP for right now, without any new information, is not installing a remote trigger for this last-ditch fail-safe. It's my understanding that most drill rigs have a remote trigger, and the fact that this rig doesn't screams cut corners to save time. If they'd had one installed, they could have closed the leak by now, and it would be no big deal to wait another 3 months before it is actually capped.

          Since this is BP's third major catastrophe in 5 years, I would not be surprised if they lose their license to operate.

          • Given that, then yes. Thanks BP is definitely the right sentiment.

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            What you can definitely blame BP for right now, without any new information, is not installing a remote trigger for this last-ditch fail-safe.

            Actually, correcting myself here, but apparently it was Transocean that failed to install the remote trigger, since it's their rig and drilling equipment - BP just owns the well. So it's Transocean's fault for not putting in all the safety measures, and BP's fault for not verifying that said measures were all in place and working as expected.

            Still, probably just another cost cutting situation, with BP not willing to spend the money to have their own guys check things out.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by alaffin (585965)

              Actually, if I am not mistaken, said remote fail safe is not a requirement for drilling in the USA. That goes back to BP and a few of her large cousins in that oil and drilling industry (the remote fail safe is not required because they lobbied against it, suggesting it was unnecessary) but there's plenty of blame to go around on this one. In the end it will be BP that catches the most hell, and (depending on how you view it), rightly so - but it's important to note that there were a large number of screw

        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          For the reader interested in what is actually happening out there, be aware that the following comments by PSandusky (740962), Bigjeff5 (1143585), and alaffin (585965) simply reveal that they don't know very much about drilling technology.
          I do know quite a bit about it - it's been part of my job for over 20 years now. I'm not saying anything about what's going on out there because I know that I don't know, and I also know that what little information has come out doesn't add up. Myself and several other lon

          • The nytimes ran an article that pretty much agreed with everything BigJeff5 said (supposedly told to them by BP). So either you're claiming BP is lying about what's happened or you should enlighten us just to why you are calling him a dumbass.

            Just saying.

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              The nytimes ran an article that pretty much agreed with everything BigJeff5 said (supposedly told to them by BP). So either you're claiming BP is lying about what's happened or you should enlighten us just to why you are calling him a dumbass.

              I haven't called Bigjeff5, or anyone else, a "dumbass", so you can make your own apologies to them.
              It's perfectly reasonble to think that all of BigJeff, the New York Times, and the PR flack from BP are all speaking from the same book titled "Noddy drills for oil and g

              • I haven't called Bigjeff5, or anyone else, a "dumbass", so you can make your own apologies to them.

                That's what it sounded like what you were implying to me. But apologies if I misread that bit.

                Let's have a look ... how many rigs have I worked on? Oh gods, I'd have to read my CV ... let's say in the order of forty in the last decade and forget the previos decade and a bit. How many have not had a remote control panel for the BOP stack, as Bigjeff (and the New York Times, according to you) says? Not one that I'm aware of. Many have had two remote panels (one in the blast-protected accommodation ; one at the lifeboat stations at the other end of the rig ; it is left as an exercise to the reader to work out why there are often two remote panels at opposite ends of the rig). Those are of course, in addition to the routine control panel in the driller's control cabin ("dog house").

                I always assumed they were talking about some sort of installation not on the rig. If nobody gets to either of those shutoff points (because the rig is exploding around them, I can imagine that might make engaging the controls hard), there would still be a way to shut it down off-rig somehow. It makes sense to me that they wouldn't install something like that since as you say (further below) there are all sorts of

      • by rtb61 (674572)

        Accidents are not to be confused with criminal negligence. An accident is what happens when you 'spill the milk' at home, when a oil platform goes up in flames, blows up and they can't shut down the flow of oil, that is criminal negligence.

        Corporate executives need to start going to jail for their corrupt bonus inflating shortcuts, that they are guilty of a crime is self evident, what needs to happen for a change is the individuals responsible need to be pursued and prosecuted no matter where they are in

        • Accidents are not to be confused with criminal negligence. An accident is what happens when you 'spill the milk' at home, when a oil platform goes up in flames, blows up and they can't shut down the flow of oil, that is criminal negligence.

          If they had a failsafe system in place that they believed would shut down the flow of oil in the event of a catastrophic failure, and they genuinely believed and had tested that it would work, then it is not criminal negligence.

          If they knew somehow that this system would not work and didn't move to replace/upgrade it, then it's criminal negligence.

    • by BBTaeKwonDo (1540945) on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:43PM (#32050220)
      Drill, baby, drill!
      • Absolutely! We must cease our dependence on foreign sources of oil! Stop giving money to nations that don't like us! Drill, baby, drill!

        Seriously, why don't the media make fun of the Tea Partiers when it's so obvious how stupid their slogans are? (Answer: large media corporations don't want to pick a fight with large petroleum corporations)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by demonlapin (527802)

          Stop giving money to nations that don't like us!

          What's stupid about that? I happen to disagree with it - I'd rather use up the rest of the world's supplies of fossil fuels before exhausting our own - but it's neither patently stupid nor, as far as I can tell, a tea party slogan. "Drill, baby, drill" is over the top hyperbole, but it's also not a tea party slogan.

        • by DebianDog (472284)

          If we took every drop out of US and used it all it would last for a whooping 8-12 years. YOU ARE CLUELESS!!!!

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oil_reserves#Proved_reserves [wikipedia.org]

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            That's "proved reserves". There's lots more stuff waiting to be found, such as on the Atlantic seaboard.

            Mind you, think doesn't mean I think we should go out and start drilling right away; I'm just pointing out that your statistics don't really prove anything. Personally I think BP should be seized by the government for being so stupid, its shareholders left with nothing, and the company put under new management and the profit given back to the government. Next, all offshore drilling should be stopped un

            • by RockDoctor (15477)

              Personally I think BP should be seized by the government for being so stupid,

              Several points :

              1. Since BP is actually a British company (at least in large part), that would be an act of war against a nuclear power. Perhaps you'd like to reconsider?
              2. You have evidence that BP have done something wrong? Please cite it. When citing your evidence, bear in mind that it will be picked over by at least one person with over 20 years of practice in drilling (i.e. me) and any errors that you've made are likely to be point
              • I'm not going to call their drilling crew (the guys who died on the rig) fucking idiots without some pretty good evidence.

                You mean, evidence other than the exploding rig and the resulting oil spill?

                • by RockDoctor (15477)

                  You mean, evidence other than the exploding rig and the resulting oil spill?

                  Since we don't know what caused the floater to take fire and then explode, and the oil spill is an uninteresting secondary consequence of the explosion ... well yes, one would like to see some better evidence. What we're hearing at the moment through the grapevine is that the liner had been cemented without back flow ; that it had been pressure tested ; and that it had been influx tested prior to the riser being displaced to seawate

          • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

            And the North Slope of Alaska was supposed to run out of oil a decade ago, yet it still produces.

            What's your point?

            There is a big difference between proved reserves and the actual amount of oil in the ground. If you actually read that Wikipedia link, the amount of proved reserves is directly related to our technical ability to extract the oil. Furthermore, there are many large strategic reserves that are not proved reserves simply because they are reserved for emergencies. Due to the nature of oil explor

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          Seriously, why don't the media make fun of the Tea Partiers when it's so obvious how stupid their slogans are? (Answer: large media corporations don't want to pick a fight with large petroleum corporations)

          Uh, exactly which large media outlets, aside from Fox, have not been making fun of Tea Partiers? What news are you watching? All most all the news I've seen calls them vile names and ridicules them constantly. Seriously, I don't know what news you've been watching to be able to make such a statement.

          • by AHuxley (892839)
            FOX pundits told a generation of viewers that the tech was now so smart, safe, clean and green.
            Add in the hint of never explored, under reported, gov owned land and it was a 'slam dunk' for US energy independence spin.
            For a few years of US oil, you get a few years of $$$ clean ups.
            Scrub baby scrub!
        • by gilgongo (57446)

          Stop giving money to nations that don't like us!

          I'm trying hard to think of a nation that likes the US... Israel maybe? Even the "special relationship" between the US and the UK is now dead [timesonline.co.uk], apparently.

    • by RockDoctor (15477)

      Free BP brand sunscreen for everyone.

      When BP went through it's major re-branding exercise a few years ago after the swallowing of (sorry, "merger with") Amoco, their lovely new logo rapidly acquired the nickname of the "septic sunflower".
      At least it did around here.
      Is that the sound of PR departments puking their guts out? Lovely sound, isn't it?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    You go!

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:46PM (#32050274) Journal
    Obviously, over a sufficiently long time, all but the nastiest flavors of hydrocarbon are subject to biological attack(which, among other reasons, is why there isn't much free oil just sitting around on the earth's surface, and what is close to the surface has mostly degraded into a hardened mass of tar).

    However, if anybody thinks that bacteria that evolved to metabolize oil seeps are going to be able to eat the output of a more or less uncapped modern production well before it floats and oils a whole lot of birds/beach/furry animals, they are dreaming.

    There are practically no complex organic compounds that are truly persistent, between UV and adventurous microbes; but there are plenty that are persistent enough that you'll be dead by the time they've worked themselves out.
    • by mpe (36238)
      However, if anybody thinks that bacteria that evolved to metabolize oil seeps are going to be able to eat the output of a more or less uncapped modern production well before it floats and oils a whole lot of birds/beach/furry animals, they are dreaming.

      Assuming these bacteria can even survive in such an environment in the first place. Or when oil is floating on the ocean surface.
      How are things going on capping the well?
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

        Microbes survive everywhere, there is almost certainly a type that can survive on the ocean's surface and metabolize the oil. I have no idea for sure, but it's almost a given, with microbes.

        Last estimate I heard was three months to cap the well.

    • by PSandusky (740962)

      Aside from which, how about the safety of the intermediates in this degradation process? A bacterium enjoying the bounty doesn't automatically produce a safe result in that which was consumed, does it?

    • On a similar note: do you have any idea what happens to heavy metals? And how the biosphere gets rid of it

      • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday April 30, 2010 @07:33PM (#32052114) Journal
        Heavy metals are a special nuisance because its the atom, not the molecule, that is of concern. There are a lot of ghastly poisons and unpleasant pollutants that turn into a mixture of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and maybe a dash of phosphorus, nitrogen, an whatnot, if you burn them hard enough, or if some clever bacterium gets to them. Heavy metals aren't one of them.

        Barring the development of a bacterium clever enough to catalyze nuclear fission, though, heavy metals aren't going anywhere. Best case scenario, they are(either through organic or inorganic processes) converted into relatively biologically inactive forms, and get incorporated into sediments and just sort of sit there. Worst case, they remain in highly bioavailable forms and float around the food chain wreaking havoc of various flavors.

        I'm not an expert; but my understanding is that bacteria and other organisms can cut both ways on this. Some(either by happenstance, or as an evolved measure to protect their own biological systems) have chemical means of binding heavy metals into relatively inoffensive molecules. Others make things worse(from our perspective). There are a number of types of bacteria that can convert mercury(hardly salubrious; but less offensive than its reputation would suggest) into methylmercury(substantially nastier).
  • Outside The Box (Score:1, Offtopic)

    by mindbrane (1548037)
    If solutions are needed, then those in need, need only exercise the same degree of ingenuity /. editors exercise in bringing non tech stories to the front page via tortuous, tenuous, inventive ways.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    "If the bacteria will eat the oil"; but "Will it ever stop if released?"

    • by FooAtWFU (699187)
      Will it run out of oil?

      I mean, it's kind of "released" on the sea bed already. Presumably it could drift off to other parts of the ocean if it were worthwhile for it to do so.

      • by pspahn (1175617)

        I thought there was only oil in the Gulf and Alaska. You mean other places already have their hands on this stuff? Please cite your source.

        Next you're going to probably tell me that we're not the only ones who have other great inventions, like baseball, and the moon.

      • If the bacteria are anaerobic, they could get into the oil field itself and deplete it.
        • by RockDoctor (15477)

          Which would work fine ... until they came across shortages of their next limiting nutrient.

    • by Hatta (162192)

      If it becomes a problem, we'll release bacteria eating lizards. When we're overrun with lizards, we'll release wave after wave of Chinese needle snakes. They'll wipe out the lizards. Sure, the snakes are worse but we're prepared for that. We've lined up a fabulous type of gorilla that thrives on snake meat. The beautiful part is that when winter comes around, the gorillas will simply freeze to death.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      That's a dumb question, of course it will, as soon as it runs out of oil. Duh.

  • by JustNiz (692889) on Friday April 30, 2010 @04:55PM (#32050378)

    I bet the little guys can't each much more than their own body weight in oil per day. Have you seen how big the oil slick is? who the heck has that much oil-eating bacteria ready to go?

    • by ig88b (1401217)

      who the heck has that much oil-eating bacteria ready to go?

      Nobody. And the article said the lab-grown bacteria can't compete with bacteria already on the beach. The answer to the question posed by the article, "Can Microbes Save The Gulf Beaches?" is no.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by pspahn (1175617)

        Wait wait wait... what kind of techniques do they use in the lab?

        A little Richard Simmons, some psychoactive mushrooms, and a shot of mGH should hasten the pace a little, don't you think?

        • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

          Nah, they trick it.

          They take a microbe with the ability to generate complex enzymes, and feed them a diet of sugar and oil. They slowly add more oil than sugar until all that is left is oil, and by then the microbes are optimized to eat oil. Then they can basically dump them on a patch of oil and let them go to town.

          Like the article said though, the natural bacteria in the area are better at it than the lab grown stuff.

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      I bet the little guys can't each much more than their own body weight in oil per day.

      They can probably eat a hell of a lot more than that, given that most microbe lifespans are measured in the minutes to hours range. They'll probably go through their body weight a hundred times a day, while growing exponentially. It's still going to take a long time for them to do the job though, as you'd need one massive bio-mass to take care of all that oil in any amount of time that could be considered "quick".

    • by srussia (884021)

      I bet the little guys can't each much more than their own body weight in oil per day. Have you seen how big the oil slick is? who the heck has that much oil-eating bacteria ready to go?

      It's called T. kobayashi

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      I recall Germany had a lot of older East German military equipment that had very bad oil issues.
      I think they used/tested some lab-grown bacteria to help out, but it would have been in some closed cycle system.
  • needs to read Neal Stephenson's Zodiac to talk about fallout of such action. Everything's connected, once you employ the bacteria in the process, something changes, maybe some other organisms start to feeding on them. Once the harmony is unbalanced, it'll take a while to regulate itself to sustainable state. I'm no eco-scientist, but I believe, there would be dozens of experts arguing against such action.
    • by pspahn (1175617)
      While I, and others I'm sure as well, would agree with you, you used the word 'harmony' in a way many of us are uncomfortable with. I would have used the phrase "Once equilibrium is lost" instead.
  • Pimp My Disaster (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MarcQuadra (129430) on Friday April 30, 2010 @05:02PM (#32050466)

    Listen, I don't want to get crucified for this, but I did the math yesterday. 5,000 barrels a day sounds like a lot, but this spill only adds about 45% to the total daily runoff coming out of the Mississippi anyway. If this gets plugged in 30 days, the total increase in annual oil going into this 'neighborhood' will be about 4%.

    Again, I'm not defending the spill, it needs to get plugged, but this isn't going to dramatically change the situation in that area of the Gulf, mostly because the Gulf is such a mess already.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by seifried (12921)
      But this is a relatively concentrated spill as compared to the runoff from the Mississippi river. Most things aren't a problem if sufficiently diluted ("the solution to pollution is dilution" as the old saying goes, put it up a smoke stack or into a river and it's all good). This is concentrated sufficiently to cause real problems.
    • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:16PM (#32051268)

      Listen, I don't want to get crucified for this, but I did the math yesterday. 5,000 barrels a day sounds like a lot, but this spill only adds about 45% to the total daily runoff coming out of the Mississippi anyway.

      Not entirely sure what you mean by this. Are you saying that the Mississippi 'leaks' 11,000 barrels of crude oil into the Mexican Gulf a day?

      I did my own math on that. The river [wikipedia.org] has an average discharge of 12,743 m^3/s. One barrel of oil [wikipedia.org] is 0.158'987'3 m^3. 11,000 barrels a day equals 0.020'241'438'7 m^3/s, which is 1.6 * 10^-4%. Granted, that's really not a lot, but at 83 dollars a barrel, it does sound rather odd if the oil companies would be willing to let almost a million dollars a day just drift away

      The problem with oil though, isn't so much that there's a lot of it, because in this case, there really isn't. It's just under 800 m^3 a day, and the Gulf of Mexico is a huge body of water. But oil floats, it sticks to things (like birds and mammals), it makes anything that has been in contact with it inedible for humans and our feed stock. This means we can't use any of the fish that have been in contact with oil for anything. We can't eat them and we can't feed them to our livestock. I doubt they could even be used as a fertilizer. It's probably lethal for any kind of fish anyway, as it tends to clog up their gills. And just to make it a bit more tricky, it reduces the amount of sunlight that can be used by algae - i.e. it ruins the entire bottom of the food chain.

      But again, we're only talking 800 m^3 a day. But oil doesn't lump together until it has become tar. Until then it tends to lay in the upper 0.002 mm [wikipedia.org] of the water table (given enough room, which is clearly available in the Gulf) when it's really thick. So now we're looking at 800 m^3 but only 0.002 mm deep. This gives us an area of 400 km^2.

      So, each day we're covering a 400 km^2 (154 miles^2) with a relatively thick layer of oil every single day. This has been going on since April 20th. That's 20 days, so 4,000 km^2 which is the same size as Rhode Island.

      And just to make it a bit more fun ... it's not just an oil slick the size of Rhode Island drifting towards the Gulf coast. No. They've been trying to set it on fire, so now it's a wall of fire the size of Rhode Island drifting towards the Gulf coast.

    • by mortonda (5175)

      Got a source for that claim? I find it interesting, and the press often enough screws up on the scale of things, but... you can see the oil slick from the accident but not from the river. So where is it?

      • Check the reference on page 241:

        http://books.google.com/books?id=9bHZm_9ZtgkC&lpg=PA238&ots=2TNRXUSPu0&dq=oil%20in%20the%20sea%20III%20mississippi&pg=PA241#v=onepage&q&f=false

        This is a 'big deal' in the short term, but as long as shorelines are boomed-off and this thing gets plugged, the mid-to-long term effects are negligible.

        I don't have the quote handy, but higher-ups at some of the larger fisheries were saying that they don't expect this to impact their business much when it's al

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by welcher (850511)
      First, there isn't around 10000 barrels of oil coming out of the Mississippi every day in any sort of concentrated form. Second, 5000 barrels a day for 30 days is 150,000 barrels, comparable to the 250k barrels spilled by the Exxon Valdez. Finally, they've no idea how much oil is really coming out (the wsj says today [wsj.com] possibly 25000 bpd are coming out) and BP says it will take between 55 and 90 days from now before they can attempt to plug it, even then it is only an attempt. So this is quite likely going
      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        BP says it will take between 55 and 90 days from now before they can attempt to plug it, even then it is only an attempt.

        Hmmm, very much the timescale we'd been reaching over dinner. Sounds like BP have completed the first phase of procurement : finding rigs that are capable of doing the job. Then they have to wait until one of them is at a point in it's current well where things can be safely suspended (no point in plugging one well if another one blows out in the meantime). Then : pull anchors ; tow (from

    • by AHuxley (892839)
      I think tourist, fishing interests, locals, EPA, university students, green groups ect would notice any direct leaks and tell the press?
      Unless the Gulf is some national sacrifice area why would this be allow to mess up quality productive and protected US coastline?
      • It's not big leaks... More that the river is where all the oil and water-soluble pollution from the middle of the whole country ends up coming out.

        http://serc.carleton.edu/microbelife/topics/deadzone/ [carleton.edu]

        I say we rope-up as much oil as we can, keep it over the dead zone, and spray surfactants at it to clump it together and let it sink harmlessly to the already-polluted and useless seabed.

  • by wygit (696674) on Friday April 30, 2010 @05:02PM (#32050468)

    Did this plot

    http://www.amazon.com/Ill-Wind-Kevin-J-Anderson/dp/0765357763/ref=tmm_mmp_title_0 [amazon.com]

    "When a panicky oil company tries to clean up a major spill in San Francisco Bay by dropping genetically engineered oil-eating microbes on it, the little organisms go berserk and start devouring most of the world's long-chain polycarbons (gasoline, plastics, etc.). "

  • Really? They want to put nitrogen fertilizer down to clean up the beach environment?

    So, let's harvest a bunch of coal and natural gas and put a bunch of energy into refining it into fertilizer.

    Then, let's put it on the beach and in the shallows where it can help the bacteria break down the oil into fats and acids. That and the excess runoff of nitrogen fertilizer should really help with the algal explosion and resulting fish and sea plant dead zone to come.

    So instead of having oil in the shallows of the gul

  • Fish consist for a big part of oils... What will the bacteria do them? Someone might know this?
  • by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Friday April 30, 2010 @05:21PM (#32050638)
    The single-handedly saved the world from the Exxon spill. I saw it on TV so it must be true!
  • Containment (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Cyclloid (948776)
    What ever happened to those chains of floats used to encircle a spill and contain it? True, it is huge now but what about earlier when it could have been manageable?
    • by PSandusky (740962)

      Not so much, I imagine. Those are a lot more effective with small spills already on the surface... this time, it's moving up from below, where it can cover a wider area as it rises. Skimmers and floats can help, but they're not a prominent solution for something this large. It's like putting a band-aid on a severed artery.

    • Re:Containment (Score:4, Informative)

      by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:42PM (#32051576)

      True, it is huge now but what about earlier when it could have been manageable?

      You think that wasn't the very first thing they did after putting out the fire? There was no "earlier when it could have been manageable", the pipe broke off about 5-10 feet above the sea floor, which is well over a mile below sea level. Do you realize the kind of dispersion you get with that? It spreads out for tens of miles before it even hits the surface.

      It's also an emulsion, which does not corral as well as oil sitting on top of water - an emulsion sits at the top, since there is oil in it, but not really on the top like pure oil does, since there is a lot of water in it too. They've got 30-40 miles of boom out there now to try and contain it and it isn't good enough to keep some of it from hitting the coast.

      • by Abcd1234 (188840)

        And if all that weren't enough, the weather hasn't been cooperating. Steady winds have produced choppy waters, which means the booms have been overwhelmed.

    • by SheeEttin (899897)
      Waves. The wind blows, pushes oil over the booms.
  • There is the fundamental problem of drilling in the ocean, never mind what government thinks it can regulate and what an Oil driller thinks they can handle, the pressure from the 5000 feet of water/soil is huge, it pushes the light Oil out of the reserve and up, I wonder if it is not possible for the opening to widen into something gigantic, like a crater that doesn't just trickle the oil as it is doing now but is gushing it out through some enormous opening a few hundred meters wide.

    How much Oil is there u

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      more importantly, what happens if there is an asteroid that is about to hit the Earth in a year's time, can we still rely on the ocean Oil drillers to help out, was Bruce Willis available for a comment?

    • by Bigjeff5 (1143585)

      Actually the high pressure from the water column helps keep the oil in the reservoir. You've got to keep in mind that it's not a bubble, it's a sponge, and even if it were it can't just shoot out without something else taking its place (because it's spongy it takes longer for something else to move in). The relatively small hole and the 6,000+ feet of water exerts an enormous amount of pressure on it. Obviously not enough to stop the flow by a long shot, but if this were a surface well the oil would be s

      • It doesn't make sense for it to have been an overpressured gas pocket, because they weren't drilling, they were done cementing. Any such pocket should have been hit and dealt with when it was initially drilled through. We've got to be looking at either a mechanical failure or human error. Rather than mud in this case, there was cement at the bottom and I would assume brine above it and a closed valve at the top holding the rest of the necessary pressure. Combine a bad cement plug and somebody opening the wr
  • High concentrations of oil kill the stuff.
    It's a great approach for small amounts of oil but doesn't work with a big thick slick.
    Oil companies use oil eating bacteria to treat storm water runoff in oil refineries - so yes they have heard of this stuff.
  • ... the microbes will eat all our oil!

  • "Unclear?" (Score:4, Informative)

    by Huntr (951770) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:07PM (#32052364)

    At this point it's unclear how much of an environmental threat oil spreading from the BP spill will cause

    Actually, it's pretty clear. This likely will go down as the worst environmental disaster in US history, in terms of its environmental and financial impacts. Estimates [wsj.com] say it's leaking 1 million gal per day. That means we're just about at EVE [wikipedia.org] already. It will take at least a few months to get another well drilled and this one capped.

    In that time, LA and other Gulf oyster and shrimping fisheries are going away. That's $2.5-3 billion to LA per year. Coastal wetlands are going to be devastated - can't scrub the plants, have to burn the wetlands to clean it up. Hundreds of species of wildlife will be impacted. Their marine and estuarine habitats will be severely harmed. And we haven't even discussed the impact to beaches and Florida's $3 billion Gulf Coast tourism industry, yet. Hope the slick/tar balls don't hit the Loop current and end up in Miami Beach or even Daytona.

    This is bad, folks.

  • Forget it at your peril.

  • The majority of oleophilic bacterial tend to break down longer-chain aliphatic hydrocarbons. Generally these bacteria do not break down aromatic and alicyclic hydrocarbons. The materials that are left behind, like polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), are generally more toxic (Many PAHs are carcinogenic). The toxic materials tend to be shielded from the environment as they are normally dispersed with the other less toxic hydrocarbon constituents of crude oil. Unfortunately when the rest of the hydrocarb
  • http://www.youtube.com/v/aegI9YCM0oA [youtube.com] I'm not the only one this morning who thought the swat teams were fucking odd.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s4DnU_8RhEg [youtube.com]
  • by Yoda2 (522522)
    Could a small nuke set off on the ocean floor near the leak possibly seal it? It seems that the right sized device would create molten rock and just seal things off. Appears this is called a melt cavity [wikipedia.org]. Might vaporize some of the oil concentrated in the area of the leak too. Doesn't seem the atmospheric fallout would be too bad at that depth.

    Guessing downsides include igniting the entire reserve (although I think an oxygen source would be needed), making the leak worse, & 3 eyed fish, etc.

    Proba

  • I might get blasted for this comment, but WTF r they doing?
    Seriously, they are taking way to long to come up with a solution.
    The governments are accountable for this one, you don't have 10 countries sitting there waiting for the other to jump in first, they all have to jump in....I am sickened by the lack of action on the US part...Obama should have deployed guards immediately to assess,
    and more the second day once the threat was determined. What does he want to teach the big oil companies a lesson, instead

That does not compute.

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