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Biotech Earth Science

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

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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  • by JustNiz ( 692889 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @05:55PM (#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?

  • Pimp My Disaster (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MarcQuadra ( 129430 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:02PM (#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.

  • by wygit ( 696674 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:02PM (#32050468)

    Did this plot []

    "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.). "

  • Re:Why so serious? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by demonlapin ( 527802 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:33PM (#32050796) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • Re:Why so serious? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by PSandusky ( 740962 ) <{psandusky} {at} {}> on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:46PM (#32050926)

    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 happily bet you dollars to donuts that what PM could have been done within BP's resources was not done at all.

    So, yeah. Thanks, BP.

  • Re:Of course (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DarkOx ( 621550 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @06:59PM (#32051038) Journal

    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 long time. The oil we know will kill a great deal of the things we care about; but past spills tell us enough will survive that eventually there will be recovery. The bacteria might do any number of things.

  • Re:Why so serious? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @08:32PM (#32052104)

    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:Why so serious? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alaffin ( 585965 ) on Friday April 30, 2010 @10:33PM (#32052930) Journal

    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-ups from top to bottom that created this situation.

  • Re:Pimp My Disaster (Score:3, Interesting)

    by welcher ( 850511 ) on Saturday May 01, 2010 @12:32AM (#32053702)
    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 [] 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 to be the worst oil spill ever in the USA. I'd say it'll make quite a significant difference to quite a large area for quite a long time.
  • Re:Of course (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 01, 2010 @03:36AM (#32054488)

    "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."

    Oh yea? What if bacteria managed to survive, get into the well, and eat the worlds oil?

When a fellow says, "It ain't the money but the principle of the thing," it's the money. -- Kim Hubbard