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Gulf Bacteria Quickly Digested Spilled Methane 136

Posted by Soulskill
from the om-nom-nom dept.
masterwit writes "From an AAAS news release: 'Bacteria made quick work of the methane released by the Deepwater Horizon blowout, digesting most of the gas within the four months after its release, according to a new study published online at ScienceExpress.' This study, however, did not deal with other chemicals (oil) from the disaster's fallout. A glimpse of good news from the disaster's aftermath." Reader iamrmani points out a related article suggesting that things may be looking up for BP after the Presidential Commission said blame for the disaster should be shared with service contractors and government regulators.
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Gulf Bacteria Quickly Digested Spilled Methane

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  • Shared? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Nemyst (1383049) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:14PM (#34832062) Homepage

    Yes, quite possibly. The regulators and contractors should be jailed for criminal negligence. That doesn't mean BP shouldn't be sued into oblivion, though. Let them be a lesson for all others and all that.

    Too bad it doesn't even have a snowball's chance in hell of happening. Despite being called Beyond now, I'm sure the British government would file them in the "too big to fail" category.

    • Re:Shared? (Score:5, Informative)

      by black3d (1648913) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @12:58AM (#34832584)

      The British government? This is a majority American-owned company. It was founded, and is still currently headquartered in Britain, but has been a mostly American company since it merged with Amoco (and really, was majority US owned by investors before that). The British government is far less affected by the success or failure of this company than the American government - so no, it's unlikely Obama or his successor will let it go under any time soon. As the fourth largest company in the world, it has revenues that make companies like General Motors look like they're trading in junk bonds.

      Also, what's called "Beyond"? BP isn't. It's called BP. "Beyond Petroleum" is a marketing slogan - a tagline, if you will, indicating they're investing in more than just gasoline. Up until the Deepwater Horizon debacle, BP was considered one of the greenest petroleum companies, and had been making the most scientific advances in cleaner fuels and alternative fuels. It's received many acknowledgements and awards for this; Although of course all that work has now been nullified by the Deepwater incident, and pundits will undoubtedly view any future advances BP makes in ecological technologies as "trying to make up for Deepwater", despite their history in working to that goal.

      • and pundits will undoubtedly view any future advances BP makes in ecological technologies as "trying to make up for Deepwater", despite their history in working to that goal.

        I consider myself open minded, but I have a hard time thinking of a petroleum company as legitimately green. I'd be willing to believe they were the most serious about greenwashing... oh, and hey, that wiki article happens to mention BP spent 200 million on an -advertising- campaign to bill themselves as greener, winning a "Greenwash Academy Award" in the process.

        I'd say it's actually naive to say that pundits will write any future "advances" from BP off as trying to make up for deepwater. I certainly hop

      • BP is not a majority US owned company. In fact, large numbers of UK pensions have been invested in the company. Whether it's too big to fail or not is another issue... http://www.bp.com/extendedsectiongenericarticle.do?categoryId=9010453&contentId=7019612 [bp.com]
      • As the fourth largest company in the world, it has revenues that make companies like General Motors look like they're trading in junk bonds.

        GM is owned (more-or-less) by the US gov't (and therefore, the citizens). So they ARE trading in junk bonds...

      • by jafac (1449)

        BP used to operate under "APOC". If you want to know about the sordid history of this company, look up "Operation Ajax". This was the company largely behind the one event that history can consider to be the most primal cause of the Iranian revolution, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Iran-Iraq war, the first Gulf War, most likely 9/11, and our current ongoing involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan/Pakistan.

        If the United States Government had mainly just minded its own business, in 1953, and operated

    • So there were multiple parties at fault. So what? If one person robs a bank, is it a lessor crime then if multiple people rob a bank? In some cases more people means extra charges for conspiracy. I think that there is more then enough guilt and responsibility to go around for all the bad behavior.

      As for lax government oversight, it's a red herring. (Pun intended.) When there was lax oversight of poultry farmers in the midwest and as a result people got sick from bacteria, the farmers couldn't say "You ig

      • by RockDoctor (15477)

        So how did this oversight failure happen? It was a product of the Bush administration's conscious sabotage of regulation when they were in control. They appointed "pro-business" officials who had a policy of letting business get away with everything up to and including murder.

        The term that we've long used for this process (up to and including, as you say, murder) is "regulatory capture". It's something that the Trade Union movement has been complaining about in Britain since well before the Piper Alpha (whi

    • by thegarbz (1787294)
      BP was never called "Beyond Petroleum". That was simply their marketing slogan. BP was British Petroleum until they bought Amoco after which they became simply "BP". Also BP is as much an US company as it is a UK company. The stock holdings are equal, though a far larger number of key rich investors come from American, and the UK has a larger number of institutional investors.
  • But how about that oil?
    • by Mashiki (184564)

      Different bacteria, but it does eat oil as well breaking it down into other hydrocarbons which are eaten by other bacteria and all that. It's one of those funky things that have been going on there since the giant chunk of rock slammed into us and caused the last mass-extinction.

    • Last sentence of first article:

      The study did not explore what effect microbes may have had on the oil from the spill.

      But you do have a point. But it also may be speculated that methane in it's raw form is much easier to "digest" for the bacteria or than say oil. (But really I am not that quite informed here just what I have heard.)

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by rtb61 (674572)

      Reality "most of the methane released" LIE, most of the methane released that was deposited on the sea floor in close proximity to the blow out. So misleading science right of the get go, simple logic, the rig blew up because of a blow out ie, a large volume of methane gas escaped from the well head, rose to the surface caught fire and exploded.

      So did amphibious bacteria consume the methane the rose from the sea floor and escape to the atmosphere, logically the majority of the methane released (as the ri

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Haters gotta hate. Ever occur to you that the weeks it took to seal it might have leaked magnitudes more than the relatively tiny amount involved in the explosion? Who to believe, a scientist or wild speculation from a random slashdotter?

    • by daem0n1x (748565) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @07:08AM (#34834180)
      I, for one, welcome our new microscopic, fart-eating overlords.
  • "Our" Fault? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by black6host (469985) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:16PM (#34832084)

    "after the Presidential Commission said blame for the disaster should be shared with service contractors and government regulators."

    I say "our" because the government represents us all, or should anyways, that's a subject for a different debate. I'm sorry, we don't share in their profits, we should not be responsible for their mistakes. In my opinion, regulation is desired in cases such as this, but not to share blame, only as an additional protective measure. Yes, we may have failed at that (don't get me going on the bullshit that went on previously with the regulators and oil industry, nor the complete lack of review of the plan should a disaster happen, haven't seen any sea lions lately down here in the Gulf area) but the responsibility for safety rests squarely on those that are conducting the drilling and reaping the profits. Well, at least they would have if they had not screwed up so royally.

    • Re:"Our" Fault? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by tnk1 (899206) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:27PM (#34832152)

      Well, I agree with you there that the ultimate responsibility is those who stand to profit.

      On the other hand, regulators do get paid to do this work. It is not really "our" fault they failed to do their job, it's the fault of the regulatory bureaucracy that we have hired to do it. Trust me, the regulators aren't starving civil servants who do it just because they are looking out for our interests. They get decent pay and very good benefits. The only part of it that is "ours" is the dime they they are getting their benefits on.

      Again, not looking to deflect blame here, but if our regulators are asleep at the wheel, or worse, getting too chummy with their subjects, they need to be given a serious reprimand.

      For now, we need oil and we have to have both corporations and regulators who will make sure it is obtained in the least hazardous way possible. There is surely more than enough blame to go around on this particular issue.

      • Re:"Our" Fault? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by clarkkent09 (1104833) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @12:31AM (#34832484)

        Safety laws covering any particular industry typically get written by that industry itself, or rather by the large players with the biggest pull in Washington. Who else has the knowledge necessary to write that regulation, random civil servants, or the Congressmen? If you were going to have experts on every detail of every industry that the government regulates in Washington you would need couple of more Washingtons to house them all. There are no two opposing sides here, there is only one side. That's why BP will get away with hardly any punishment, and will even get most of the compensation fund that it already paid back with interest. Competition and tort laws are what make companies behave, not the government.

    • Re:"Our" Fault? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by afidel (530433) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:28PM (#34832162)
      Well, the MMS was f'd up beyond all belief and one simple rule that the Canadians require would have made the response take weeks instead of months, require the relief well be drilled in parallel with the main bore. That simple regulation would have meant a small portable rig would have been all that was needed to finish off the kill shot. If you think that ANY company will take safety more seriously than the cost of f'ing up then I have news for you, that's not how capitalism works which is why we need strong regulations despite what crazy folks want.
      • Re:"Our" Fault? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by thegarbz (1787294) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @02:51AM (#34833050)
        Actually companies weigh this all on a risk basis. This is fundamental to every operational institution and the risk is always monetized. You can bet your bottom dollar if someone predicted that the well would blowout that millions would have been spent on a relief well being drilled as well. However the key failing is that the risk that was initially estimated was not updated based on operating conditions thanks to low level management.

        You think the message that the well had fractured during drilling was fed back up to the CEO? I think it would have been filed somewhere in a log and the risk graphs not updated. You think the fact that the correct centralisers couldn't be sourced was fed back up to the CEO who does these risk calculations? In reality it was signed off by some engineer not even anywhere near as high as the plant manager.

        No company in their right mind would knowingly accept the risk of the well. The problem is this occurred during normal operation. Before the well fractured the risk was low. When it fractured it was slightly higher, when maintenance was not performed on the BOP it was higher again. The risk continued to climb due to failure of maintenance of the Horizon's equipment, then again when Halliburton used a cement that even they thought wouldn't hold the well. THEN AGAIN when they pumped the drilling mud out.

        None of these individual decisions would have caused a blow-out, and thus none get passed onto higher up. If you OSHA fining your plant daily, that gets reported to the top. If you have a major single safety breach that gets reported to the top. The top then make the financial and risk decisions based on this information. But if you have a long train of small things go wrong then it wouldn't ever appear on any risk graph. You can run the safest plant in the world, however at midnight an emergency shutdown valve could be playing up resulting in one entrepreneurial operator putting a cable tie around the reset switch on the valve. The defeated ESD system could then fail to act in an incident and kill everyone on site. The papers and the masses would still ultimately crucify the company for it's safety practices despite the best intentions of the CEO.
        • by afidel (530433)
          BP has a corporate culture of not paying enough attention to detail or properly maintaining equipment, its squeeze every penny out this quarter (like so many short sighted businesses). Texas city wasn't some freak accident and neither was deep water horizon, they are endemic to the BP corporate culture and things weren't going to change until something expensive enough got their attention.
          • by thegarbz (1787294)
            For every example there is of course a counter example. During construction and commissioning of the new Reliance facility in India there was an average death of 1 person a week. Exxonmobil [newsdesk.org] spill dwarfed the Gulf of Mexico last year in the Niger Delta but no one cared. Shell, Union Oil, they've all had major incidents that have killed many workers.

            It's not so much a case of BP's corporate culture, but a case of the entire Oil and Gas industry. If you want a true unbiased example look at a book called "W
        • by couchslug (175151)

          "Actually companies weigh this all on a risk basis."

          That doesn't mean that pressures don't influence their objectivity, since the primary objective for individuals in those companies is to make a buck and avoid jail.

          They bear aggressive, adversarial watching.

          • by thegarbz (1787294)
            Pressure and reward weighs in on the risk graph. I'm not giving them an excuse, I'm just pointing out basic economics.
      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by roman_mir (125474)

        Crazy folks, ha?

        Crazy folks, who think that gov't should not be ever involved with any private companies in any way shape or form, helping them, working for them OR regulating them?

        Sure, you can call them crazy. Or you can call them the only sane people.

        You know why? Because it is the only sane position to take, that gov't should not be involved in any private enterprise at all ever.

        It is the only sane position to take that gov't should not be insuring, stimulating, bailing out, giving out free money, givin

        • by khallow (566160)

          It is the only sane position to take, that gov't should NEVER EVER be in any insurance business.

          Keep in mind that it is commonly accepted that government should be the insurer of last resort. If government isn't playing that role, then who is? And what makes them not a government?

          • by roman_mir (125474)

            Obviously gov't made a point of instilling this into the heads of the crowd, that gov't is the lender of last resort.

            Clearly, from point of view of sane economics there is no such thing, and gov't is the last entity in the world that can legitimately claim this title, because gov't does not have any wealth. Gov't can print money, but the act of printing money to lend it is the worst way to deal with any crisis, this is shown by the historic events over and over, as gov't creates crisis by printing money and

            • by khallow (566160)

              Obviously gov't made a point of instilling this into the heads of the crowd, that gov't is the lender of last resort.

              I said insurer of last resort, not lender. There's been considerable deliberate conflating of the two, but they are different issues. We can think of genuine disasters or attacks that threaten the entire US, rather than merely the fools who put their money into bad investments.

              • by roman_mir (125474)

                But FDIC, Freddie/Fannie, US bond buying, bailing out banks, setting caps on oil rig liability, SS, EI, it's all 'insurance'.

                It's all insurance, and it's all bad that gov't is involved into this, because gov't: 1. can't assess risk. 2. it doesn't have money to insure you, so it ends up doing what? Getting that money from where?

                If you are in a position, that legitimately requires insurance, there are ways to insure you that are real - insurance companies will insure you. They will assess the risk and you wi

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Oh, will you stop with the "one simple rule that the Canadians require"? This myth started during the BP disaster and has persisted, but it's completely false. Canadian jurisdictions do not require "relief wells to be drilled in parallel with the main bore". In fact, I don't know of any jurisdiction in the world that requires that.

        Two blowouts have occurred in the offshore areas of Canada in the vicinity of Sable Island, offshore Nova Scotia. They happened back in the 1980s. One of them required a reli

        • by ZFox (860519)

          Drilling a parallel relief well wouldn't be a panacea anyway. There are risks drilling any well, and the relief well could experience a blowout too.

          Just enact more regulation that requires an extra relief well be drilled for the original extra relief well. Don't worry about the dangers of that new well because this solution scales quite nicely to fix that, too.

      • Thanks to all these postings I now know that capitalism causes accidents.
        I guess the AMAZING safety records of the non-capitalist countries should have been more obvious.
        I now know that socialism = green, communism = peace.
        Thank you all so very much.
        Citation needed? Oh please.

    • Re:"Our" Fault? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by DRJlaw (946416) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @01:08AM (#34832612)

      I'm sorry, we don't share in their profits, we should not be responsible for their mistakes.

      Ignoring the lease fees on the area that were paid to the U.S. government, the Minerals Management Service royalties that were to be paid to the U.S. government for oil produced from that area, the income taxes derived from the revenue generated from that area... oh, and the fines to be collected by the U.S. government in addition to cleanup costs and the damage fund.

      [R]egulation is desired in cases such as this, but not to share blame, only as an additional protective measure.

      Compliance with government regulations is evidence that you have not been acting negligently. Not conclusively so, but still relevant to the overall determination. It could also be evidence that risks were not foreseeable by reasonable people in that field. Again, not conclusively so, since governmental regulation can lag progress in a field. I raise this primarily with regard to my next point, since I think that you could easily argue that oil production is an inherently dangerous activity (unlike ordinary cases where someone complies with government regulations, like compliance with governmental automobile design safety standards), which would negate these mitigating factors under a common law approach to tort liability.

      [R]esponsibility for safety rests squarely on those that are conducting the drilling and reaping the profits.

      No, to the extent that you're suggesting that it rests only on those that are conducting the drilling. Governmental authorities bear a responsibility for safety in any activity that they actively regulate or police. Failures to ensure safety are theirs as well, and they must be held accountable for those failures. Your very explicit association of blame only with financial responsibility is where you fail.

      • by thrich81 (1357561)
        I see your point in a legal and idealized way. However at least from a 'moral' (I know that is totally unenforceable) and perhaps a practical point of view, when the industry has "captured" their regulators (and given the scandals at the Mineral Management Service I can safely say that the oil industry had captured their regulators) then the industry again assumes full responsibility for their actions and screw-ups. Hiding behind regulations which the industry mostly wrote and then probably skirted when t
    • but the responsibility for safety rests squarely on those that are conducting the drilling and reaping the profits..

      The government profits from companies exploiting resources in your country. Or at least it should be, I don't know US tax laws. But in pretty much every country, if you mine metals or drill for gas/oil, you pay the government money for the right to do so. (Separate from corporate tax, payroll tax, tariffs, goods and services tax, etc.)

    • by mmortal03 (607958)

      If you count "our" share of their profits in the form of federal tax revenue, you'd think "we'd" be able to put it to good use and effectively regulate them... right?

    • As consumers, we create a demand.
      As a government, there is a need to fulfill that demand.
      As humans, we should be aware of what risks and impact our demands have on our world.
      Looks like a mutated "Project Triangle" in action.
      i.e. if there are degrees of culpability, we who use oil and fuel, are not 100% guilt free

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:32PM (#34832184)

    I feel that we should start rejecting all of these reports. These are always paid and never scientifically based.

    There are an incredible amount of schools and student programs who we need to really educate how to do these tests. Let's have the top 10 universities along the gulf all do their own independent studies. Make them all take their own samples, use their own methods. Then we might have at least a somewhat impartial study.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      But ... but ... how else can those with lots of cash but no scientific leg to stand on cover up their mistakes?

  • It's nice to know that ScienceExpress is 'express' enough to not bother including any real data along with their story.

    Yeah, I read most of the article...of course, if I were the typical slashbot, most=whatever the slashdot summary included (along with the sassy editorial at the end, making it ever so painfully obvious the submitter wants to steer the reader's opinion of the article..I mean, Fox News anchors are better at doing that, and they're horrible!)

    • If you look on the right side there is a link to the abstract [sciencemag.org] but unfortunately it is behind a pay wall. For the most part these ScienceExpress articles will not publish data and frankly I find this fine since the full paper was not provided. Had they provided the full paper so we as readers could engage...well either way we all hate pay walls. (try debating facts when you don't have all the facts, we know how well those go...lol)

  • by Lord Byron II (671689) on Monday January 10, 2011 @11:45PM (#34832254)

    Before the spill, BP was trading at $60+/share. Today, they're at $45/share. I can't help but think that since they have already paid out most of the money that will have to and since they have settled most of the claims, and since the well is good and dead, that the stock price has to recover to it's previous levels. If you buy today at $45 and it recovers only to $60 in a year, then that's still a 33% return on investment, which is absolutely terrific, especially in a down economy. Any thoughts?

    • by afidel (530433)
      No, because the previous stock price was a reflection of expected future value based significantly on the fact that BP was the biggest deep water driller in the world. Such drilling almost anywhere in the developed world now carries a significantly higher cost because of increased regulation and higher insurance costs (externalities are now actually incorporated in those costs) the stock is unlikely to recover to previous levels. The non-national oil companies are being sqeezed by the socialization of most
      • by thegarbz (1787294)
        Though if you think that deep you also need to consider the expected future value of oil as resources tighten and deep water drilling becomes vastly more attractive, as does oil shale mining. The additional rules haven't stopped any of the 13 new wells being drilled. The bulk of all US oil exists in the deep waters in the gulf. Even if the short term government makes it unattractive to drill there in the long term either pressures will reduce the additional costs and regulation, or prices will rise once aga
    • by beaker8000 (1815376) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @12:26AM (#34832468)

      The 33% return you note is only capital gains (which is certainly a nice return). But I think the real sweetness is that prior to the spill BP paid an $0.84 quarterly dividend (BP was forced to stop paying it). If they reinstate the dividend at the same $0.84, BP's yield will be ($0.84*4)/$46.03 = 7.3%.

      I think BP will reinstate its $0.84 dividend sometime in 2011. So if you buy now you can earn 7.3% per year (excluding capital gains) for the rest of your life. Not too bad in a world where the 30-year bond yields 4.5%.

      Also keep in mind dividends are now taxed lower than interest. So on an after-tax basis (say at the 28% bracket) the difference is:

      BP dividend: 7.3%*(1-0.15) = 6.21%
      Treasury yield: 4.5%*(1-.28) = 3.24%

      a little less than double the return.

      Of course, if BP repeats itself......

    • by Senes (928228)
      I'd have to say the answer is no. If you've been following the news; BP is shown to have a history of mistakes and negligence that is much worse than what seems to be the norm for the industry. Given their past, it would stand to reason that they're at above-average risk of another big disaster at any time.

      Is investing your money a good idea? Sure. Is BP stock a wise choice? It's more of a gamble really.
      • by thegarbz (1787294)
        Yet since the Texas City incident in 2005 despite repeated fines by OSHA and lackluster safety performance the share prices continued a steady rise. Have faith my man. Short term trends definitely in the upwards direction for these shares.
    • Based on the financials [google.com], they've had a drop in revenue, even without the special charges. I'm not sure they'll be able to make it back too easily.

      If I were going to consider that more seriously, I would research to make sure that they really do have good prospects for the future (and that the industry has good prospects for the future!) I would start by looking on Google finance, look up BP stock [google.com], and look on the right where they have the news stories. Some of them are garbage but sometimes good analysis
  • by gmuslera (3436)
    Maybe the leftovers of that digestion should worry us
  • by AHuxley (892839) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @12:36AM (#34832504) Homepage Journal
    Almost Soviet in that way.
    If its not measured, it does not exist. Feds can keep most of the tame press away. University funding can be shifted.
    http://openchannel.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2010/12/27/5717367-is-dispersant-still-being-sprayed-in-the-gulf [msn.com]
    Long term studies and samples then become lost in the mix of "persistent but unsubstantiated reports".
    • by pavon (30274)

      What are going on about? It was a single study concentrating on a single aspect of the spill. There were tons of other grants given to study the spill.

  • Hmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Psychotria (953670) on Tuesday January 11, 2011 @12:46AM (#34832548)

    I wonder if all those dead birds, fish and stuff that have been turning up ate the bacteria or ate something that ate the bacteria :D

  • Who ate what? "Gulf Bacteria Quickly Digested, Spilled Methane." -- Yum... (poot!)

    Anyhow, this isn't really surprising. I hear those Gulf Bacteria will eat anything, Even Flesh! [go.com]

  • This makes perfect sense. Natural oil leaks occur quite often. But they are usually less concentrated and in lower volumes at any single point in time and space than an artificial oil leak such as at the gulf. But, nevertheless, nature has mechanisms in place that can deal with oil. Many of them don't work in spills of this magnitude, but many others will, over time, do more than we projected. The other problem that the article doesn't mention, however, is the ecosystem unbalance caused by the increase
    • by sznupi (719324)

      And since nature doesn't so much care about mechanisms to "deal with oil" as with simply finding new equilibrium - some scenarios [wikipedia.org] can be more fun than others.

  • Of course the only major difference (in light of this finding) between the Gulf spill and the Exxon Valdez

    was the temperature of the water

    Hence forth, all major petroleum spills are limited to warm climates

    Take that, Canada - no drilling in the Arctic!!!

  • "[O]xygen drops when bacteria respire methane"

    What could go wrong?

  • a website called scienceexpress?
  • You're only a week late with this old news.

  • The bacteria were consumed by the plankton, the plankton by fish and crabs, fish and crabs by the birds.. Then the birds fell from the sky and the fish and crabs washed up on shore. Oops.
  • I Wonder where this information is really coming from, seems to easy to just gulp this down and sort of think, it's ok, it all dissipated. I prefer just thinking of how tragic this was to all the people mexican or us, who live off the fishing industry, can now not provide for their families...then try to tell me how happy i should feel that some plankton ate up the spill.....supposedly...where is the proof, not like i can go into the gulf myself (all patrolled and off limits to reporters and other ships) to

  • Here's an article about something scientific, what bacteria are doing, and oh yeah, it's so-and-so's fault. Oh well, forget discussion of the topic, and let's instead point fingers. More and more topics simply cannot be discussed anymore without getting sidetracked by blame. It's sickening.

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