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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 M. Baranczak ( 726671 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:39AM (#41312339)

    I'm wondering what the fishing boats in the Gulf are seeing, if there was a corresponding explosion of growth in populations of shrimp or such. []

  • by hawguy ( 1600213 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:53AM (#41312483)

    What happens to all of the oil they consume? When a person devours a large plate of nachos, much of that tasty food comes out as undesirable waste products that have to be carefully treated and disposed of.

    Do they turn it into some other chemical? Do they just eat the oil, reproduce, and eventually die, leaving 200,000 tons of organic matter at the bottom of the gulf (is that any better than 200,000 tons of oil?). Oil from the ground has lots of contaminants like sulfur, what happens to the parts of the oil the bacteria can't digest?

  • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @10:56AM (#41312523) Homepage

    The money quote from that article regarding whether there is a corresponding explosion of population of life that feeds on this bacteria:

    In late 2012 local fishermen report that crab, shrimp, and oyster fishing operations have not yet recovered from the oil spill and many fear that the Gulf seafood industry will never recover. One Mississippi shrimper who was interviewed said he used to get 8,000 pounds of shrimp in four days, but this year he got only 800 pounds a week. Mississippi's oyster reefs have been closed since the spill started. A Louisanna fisherman said the local oyster industry might do 35 per cent this year, "If we're very lucky." Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine and oyster biologist, said that many of the Gulf fisheries have collapsed and "If it takes too long for them to come back, the fishing industry won't survive".[314]

    So... no. If I had to speculate, the bacteria is most effective in high concentrations of dispersant. That dispersant is likely detrimental to higher lifeforms, so it's probably a smorgasbord of poisoned food. A shrimper who pulls in around 6% of his pre-disaster haul, that sounds like a completely devastated ecology. Also from the above article, they used dispersants right as tuna were spawning, and it takes a tuna fish 5-15 years to mature, so the effects of that might not hit the tuna fishing industry for 3 more years.

  • by Orga ( 1720130 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:12AM (#41312721)

    There are four regions offshore North America with known seeps. Two of these, the Gulf of Mexico and southern California, have a combined annual oil seep rate of 160,000 tonnes, derived by adding 140,000 tonnes, estimated from the Gulf of Mexico, and the estimate of 20,000 tonnes from Southern California.

    source: []

    Spills of that magnitude at one location might be rare but they still occur and looking at time in a geologic timescale they're simply not that big of a deal. Man has simply decided that it needs to feed of the seafood in that area, and swim on those beaches so a spill is something to complain about. A meteor impact wiping out 80% of all species on the planet you could deem damaging to the ecosystem, it's still a natural occurence, life still finds a way and the world still turns.

    The pictures of dead fish sure prompt a lot of people to get upset I'm sure but it does not make this event even remotely unprecedented in nature.

  • by flimflammer ( 956759 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:14AM (#41312741)

    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.

    Are you implying that 40% of the ocean is now oil?

  • by nahdude812 ( 88157 ) * on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:20AM (#41312821) Homepage

    Your article states that twice an Exxon Valdez seeps into the gulf naturally each year. Their methodology is pretty suspect - measuring the thickness of naturally occurring oil on the surface, extrapolating the expected bacterial consumption rate and natural churn rate, and multiplying this by the surface area of the gulf. But I'll accept their figures for the sake of argument. So that's 84,000 m^3. Deepwater Horizon was 780,000 m^3, 18.6 times larger.

    You're saying that releasing 18 times that volume over the course of only a few months in a single location about 40 miles from a coast probably doesn't have much if any measurable ecological impact? Maybe Exxon Valdez was no big deal either, I mean that's the Pacific Ocean, I'm sure there are hundreds of times that much oil seeping naturally into the ocean, right?

  • by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Wednesday September 12, 2012 @11:52AM (#41313111) Journal

    40% of the oil remains in the gulf. Or, to put it more simply, you're a fucking retard.

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