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Earth Science

Around 200,000 Tons of Deep Water Horizon Oil and Gas Consumed By Bacteria 170

SchrodingerZ writes "The University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have determined that in the five months following the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, bacteria have consumed over 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas. The researched was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology (abstract). '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," said co-author John Kessler of the University of Rochester.' The paper debuts for the first time 'the rate at which the bacteria ate the oil and gas changed as this disaster progressed, information that is fundamental to understanding both this spill and predicting the behavior of future spills.' It was also noted that the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead (video). Still, an estimated 40% of the oil and natural gas from the spill remains in the Gulf today."
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Around 200,000 Tons of Deep Water Horizon Oil and Gas Consumed By Bacteria

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:12AM (#41312073)

    IIRC, the usual assortment of enviro-wacko Chicken Littles were saying this was going to destroy gulf fishing for decades, kill millions of animals, etc.

    Why do the Chicken Littles always seem to disappear when their predictions fail, yet again, to come true? When there's a drought or a heat wave, they're always the first to jump in front of the mic screaming "Global warming--Weesa all gonna die!!!." When it's flooding or mild--nowhere to be found. Oil well rupture, "End of the World! Run for your lives!" Rupture turns out to not have much of an effect at all--hey, where did they go?

    Guess they're off preparing for the next disaster that's going to destroy us all.

  • by concealment ( 2447304 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:17AM (#41312117) Homepage Journal

    Politics in a democracy involve two sides cheering for their own while doing anything they can to damage the other side.

    Whenever a disaster happens, whichever side that named its underlying cause as an issue makes a huge deal of the event. To gain maximum publicity for their (righteous) cause, they overstates the event and style it as a new coming apocalypse.

    Then months later when the consequence isn't as big as they thought, the event and the issue it represents pass out of public consciousness.

    There's a nasty see-saw effect as a result. We're either full on an issue, or have forgotten it, and our legislators write law accordingly. It's like a society without an attention span.

  • by divisionbyzero ( 300681 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:19AM (#41312129)

    It's not like the oil just "goes away". It gets transformed into other materials. Are those hazardous? Is the Gulf now a giant cesspool of bacterial waste?

  • by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:22AM (#41312159) Journal

    Still an estimated 40% of the oil and natural gas from the spill is still in the Gulf today.

    Read that. Basically, you seem like you'd be happy if I served you a glass of my piss, but before I served it to you I removed 60% of the piss and replaced it with pure water.

    Some of us are not "enviro-wacko"s, but are not comfortable with self-regulating companies. We learned from the pre 1920's when corporations ran rampant. We learned from the period before 1970 or 1980 when companies polluted without consequences. I want progress. I want oil drilling. I don't want a blank check for BP and others to pollute or shortcut on safety.

  • by Orga ( 1720130 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:29AM (#41312223)

    This could easily have been a natural occurrence, at anytime nature could again just decide to expel tons of deep ocean oil, but because now people have $$$$ involved and it could be blamned on someone (sued) then it's all the news with the environmentalists. Anyone who actually has studied some Geology knows this was not a big deal for the environment... and please.. we need to talk in scales of centuries.. not months.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:30AM (#41312233) Homepage

    It's not like the oil just "goes away". It gets transformed into other materials.

    And, most importantly, long before the bacteria can do anything with it, the damage to the fish, coral, and everything else is done.

    Though, I'm sure some people will say that since these bacteria will eventually clean things up we can spill and not worry about it.

  • by Chalnoth ( 1334923 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:43AM (#41312367)
    Sorry, but this, "It's a natural phenomenon!" argument just does not fly. A really, really simple way to see why this argument cannot be remotely reasonable is to look at pictures like the one posted on this article: []

    But to get into the nitty gritty of it, the article you linked says that it's "twice the Exxon Valdez spill each year," and that is likely spread out over a wide area and released in small amounts that are less likely to clump. Also, consider the magnitude: the Exxon Valdez spill between 260,000 and 750,000 barrels of oil. So if we take the high estimate, that's perhaps 1.5 million barrels of oil that normally spill into the Gulf of Mexico each year, likely spread over a wide area.

    The Deepwater Horizon spill was around 4.9 million barrels of oil, all released in a short time (much less than a year), all in the same place. No, spills of this magnitude do not happen naturally (except perhaps in exceedingly rare circumstances). Yes, it is highly damaging to the ecosystem of parts of the Gulf.
  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:50AM (#41312455)

    Is the Gulf now a giant cesspool of bacterial waste?

    It's worth remembering that the Gulf, as well as most of the rest of the world, has always been a giant cesspool of bacterial waste.

  • by postbigbang ( 761081 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:02AM (#41312593)

    A narrow view.

    The bacteria digested the oil, but what did they excrete. If they multiplied and now have no meal, they starve, and their carcasses in turn become something else. There was a process applied to the spilled oil by the bacteria. Is the remainder environmentally tenable? None of that seems to have been addressed.

    No measurements have been made of long term effects as of yet, and so we don't know 1) quantity of remaining undigested oil 2) rate at which it can reasonably be digested 3) interim effects on ecosystems in the Gulf at this estimated rate 4) how much remaining oil there is to feed the equation 5) what current fishing rates do to the population, and what might replace the population given these rates, and more.

    Democracy is weighing more than two sides of a question, as there are almost always more than two sides to a question. You're just used to American politics, which have devolved to become polarizing.

  • by khallow ( 566160 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:04AM (#41312617)

    Pretty sure buying off regulators is self-regulation.

    Now all you need to do is get the rest of us to agree with you. My view is that heavy regulation doesn't become self-regulation merely because society fails to enforce it. It just becomes unenforced regulation.

    While the two look similar functionally, it's worth remembering that solutions to the problems are different. If self-regulation doesn't work, then one can apply a fix merely by adding regulation that addresses the deficiencies. (Of course, you might create new problems by doing so. Just pointing how the process works.)

    If regulation is unenforced, then it doesn't matter how much you add, it'll still be unenforced. So it is possible in such a case to end up with both heavy regulation and an industry that would disappear, if that regulation were ever enforced according to the letter of the law. (some industries, say the assassination industry, aren't worth having, but most such industries have benefit as well as cost, and would still exist in a reasonable regulation environment.)

    Another problem is that regulation can be selectively unenforced. That allows certain companies to enjoy state-granted competitive advantages. Self-regulation doesn't create such opportunities. But it does have the disadvantage of the prisoners' dilemma. Namely, that businesses which voluntarily sacrifice in certain ways can be taken advantage of by businesses that do not.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:10AM (#41312683)

    Pee is mostly water, containing a small fraction of contaminants.

    Oil on the other hand, is 100% concentrated contaminant.

    Can't compare the two so easily.

  • by wvmarle ( 1070040 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:20AM (#41312811)

    They may say "twice the Exxon Valdez in a year" which may very well be true, but there are two giant differences:

    1) both the Exxon Valdez and this Deep Water Horizon spills spilled their vast quantities of oil in hours or days, not spread over a year. They both caused a huge spike in oil concentrations, well over the naturally occuring spills.

    2) the Exxon Valdez was at the surface, so the oil directly contaminated large parts of shoreline where the natural seep usually doesn't get to as it's all eaten by bacteria or dissolved in the water before it can reach the shore.

    The reason there are natural spills all the time will certainly have helped in the clean-up of the Deep Water Horizon spill, as there is an existing ecosystem of oil-eating bacteria present. But to say "oh it doesn't matter as nature spills more" is false. Nature has a huge capacity when it comes to cleaning up our mess, given enough time, but that doesn't mean we should just allow it to happen.

If all else fails, immortality can always be assured by spectacular error. -- John Kenneth Galbraith