Inconvenient bacteria eats a good portion Deepwater Horizon oil spill

English: Platform supply vessels battle the bl...
Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon. A Coast Guard MH-65C dolphin rescue helicopter and crew document the fire aboard the mobile offshore drilling unit Deepwater Horizon, while searching for survivors. Multiple Coast Guard helicopters, planes and cutters responded to rescue the Deepwater Horizon’s 126 person crew. Français : Les restes en feu de la plateforme Deepwater Horizon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

From the University of Rochester , those darned bacteria are ruining the eco photo-ops.  Video follows.

At least 200,000 tons of oil and gas from Deepwater Horizon spill consumed by gulf bacteria

Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have found that, over a period of five months following the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, naturally-occurring bacteria that exist in the Gulf of Mexico consumed and within five months removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed into the deep Gulf from the ruptured well head.

The researchers analyzed an extensive data set to determine not only how much oil and gas was eaten by bacteria, but also how the characteristics of this feast changed with time.

“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 results published this week in Environmental Science and Technology include the first measurements of how 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.

Kessler noted: “Interestingly, the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead. While there is still much to learn about the appropriateness of using dispersants in a natural ecosystem, our results suggest it made the released hydrocarbons more available to the native Gulf of Mexico microorganisms. ”

Their measurements show that the consumption of the oil and gas by bacteria in the deep Gulf had stopped by September 2010, five months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. “It is unclear if this indicates that this great feast was over by this time or if the microorganisms were simply taking a break before they start on dessert and coffee” said Kessler. “Our results suggest that some (about 40%) of the released hydrocarbons that once populated these layers still remained in the Gulf post September 2010, so food was available for the feast to continue at some later time. But the location of those substances and whether they were biochemically transformed is unknown.”

Previous studies of the Deepwater Horizon spill had shown that the oil and gas were trapped in underwater layers, or “plumes”, and that the bacteria had begun consuming the oil and gas. By using a more extensive data set, the researchers were able to measure just how many tons of hydrocarbons released from the spill had been removed in the deep Gulf waters. The team’s research suggests that the majority of what once composed these large underwater plumes of oil and gas was eaten by the bacteria.

Professor John Kessler, recently appointed as Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Rochester, worked with graduate research assistant Mengran Du at Texas A&M University to analyze over 1300 profiles of oxygen dissolved in the Gulf of Mexico water spanning a period of four months and covering nearly 30,000 square miles.

The researchers calculated how many tons of oil and gas had been consumed and at what rate by first measuring how much oxygen had been removed from the ocean. Mengran Du explained that “when bacteria consume oil and gas, they use up oxygen and release carbon dioxide, just as humans do when we breathe. When bacteria die and decompose, that uses up still more oxygen. Both these processes remove oxygen from the water.” Du added that it is this lower oxygen level that the researchers could measure and use as an indicator of how much oil and gas had been removed by microorganisms and at what rate.


The work was supported by the National Science Foundation with additional contributions from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Sloan Foundation, BP/the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative, and the Chinese Scholarship Council.

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September 11, 2012 4:07 pm

Hmm. That got me wondering if someone used Biozome to clean up the mess. I live not far from the place that produces it. (Keep it in mind that Biozome was intended for improving plant growth, getting rid of spilled oil in the garage, etc –

September 11, 2012 4:09 pm

Not too surprizing. Petroleum seeps are natural to the gulf, so one would have guessed that some organisms would have adapted to take advantage of them.

September 11, 2012 4:11 pm

we know that this area is prone to oil seepages and that there are “oil-eating bacteria” there. The message was reinforced immediately after the blow-out. But does this really tell us anything new about the extent of the damage?

September 11, 2012 4:16 pm

Sorry but this is old news. See also California oil steps bacteria. It has been going on for a long time now.

Robert of Ottawa
September 11, 2012 4:21 pm

Well, now we know how to clan up oil spills anywhere, right?

September 11, 2012 4:25 pm

Those bacteria become food for other organisms and on up the food chain, increasing bio-productivity.
People look at me as if I am mad, when I tell them oil spills are good for the environment.

September 11, 2012 4:40 pm

I reminded my family on the day this happened, that petroleum is organic in nature, and just mother’s milk to some. I guess it helps to have spent many years as a geology student.

September 11, 2012 4:42 pm

man in a barrel:
At September 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm you say and ask

we know that this area is prone to oil seepages and that there are “oil-eating bacteria” there. The message was reinforced immediately after the blow-out. But does this really tell us anything new about the extent of the damage?

If such bacteria did not exist then the world would be covered by oil from seepages by now.
The bacteria will convert all the escaped oil given sufficient time.
Therefore, “the extent of the damage” depends on how you define “damage” and over what time.
For example, eventually, all the oil will be gone but the ecology which emerges may differ from that which existed before the incident. If so, then it is a matter of opinion as to whether that change is “damage”.
And local fishermen have been damaged by loss of income. It is a political decision how much time must elapse before they can again catch fish. So, for them, the extent of the damage is determined politically.
And so on.

September 11, 2012 5:07 pm

The key variable here is the use of dispersants. The bacteria live in the water and feed at the oil water interface, so the smaller the droplets the higher the surface to volume ratio and the faster the bugs can eat. This was all known at the time of the spill, but the environmentalists fought tooth-and-nail to keep dispersants from being used.

September 11, 2012 5:09 pm

What we learn is lots of oil and gas was consumed by naturally occurring bacteria. The truth is not only is this expected it has been demonstrated before in the Gulf and other places. We also see or learn that give the location and other physical characteristics of the place all we have are some reasonable guesstimates. We are also reminded that mathematics is a wonderful tool for use in scientific investigations. Math is just that a tool.

September 11, 2012 5:20 pm

This is why it baffles me that people are concerned about arctic drilling spills.
With seepage, there’d be a bunch if oil just under the icecap if there weren’t bacteria consuming it. Currents wouldnt take all of it away.

September 11, 2012 5:39 pm

Philip Bradley says:
“Those bacteria become food for other organisms and on up the food chain, increasing bio-productivity.
People look at me as if I am mad, when I tell them oil spills are good for the environment.”
This all reminds me of the Econ. Prof. I had at UW Madison in the early 70’s. One day he was bragging in class about having made a trip to DC to testify in a Congressional hearing on the Economic impacts of an oil spill that had occurred in Galveston Bay (I think). He was yuking it up finely because they had successfully mislead Congress with his testimony.
Apparently he testified that the oil spill in question had had “significant economic impacts” but none of the Congressmen in attendance thought to ask about the nature of those impacts and he left them assuming that they were negative. When if fact the economic impacts were positive as the oil apparently acted like a fertilizer and bio productivity increased along with fishing success after an initial short lived period of toxicity.
In my young eyes that man and the movement lost a lot of respect, never to be recovered, on that day.

September 11, 2012 5:40 pm

“Du added that it is this lower oxygen level that the researchers could measure and use as an indicator of how much oil and gas had been removed by microorganisms and at what rate.”
So they’re using a proxy for approximating bacterial activity and hence oil consumed and that proxy tells them 40% of the oil remains but they dont know where it is. I suspect its taken up residence with the missing heat.

September 11, 2012 5:42 pm

Anengineer, given that oil seepages and the bacteria that eat them are natural events/things, I can see the hesitation in throwing a whole bunch of something pretty much brand new and alien (dispersants) into the mix. Theoretically it might produce the result you note and which it seems to … but playing around with theories when dealing with something as big as that oil spill in the Gulf is a bit of an “iffy” thing to do. What if it had turned out that the dispersants were deadly poisonous to the bacteria and/or selectively resulted in survivors that just loved to feast on weird dispersant-type chemicals. Those survivors could have spread around the planet, eating ALL the more natural dispersants, and then the entire ocean could have wound up covered in an oil slick!
Likely? Probably not. But I always tend to be a bit leery of “theories” about things. Theoretically importing rabbits to Australia seemed like a great idea to someone at one point, didn’t it?

David Ball
September 11, 2012 5:49 pm

Oh noes, oil spilt on the ground !!!! ……………where it cam from. snarc/off

David Ball
September 11, 2012 5:49 pm

came from. ooops

David Ball
September 11, 2012 6:06 pm

Jimbo says:
September 11, 2012 at 4:16 pm
So why does the media keep acting and reporting like oil spills are the worst thing to happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time?

September 11, 2012 6:31 pm

Not surprising.
Considering what went down in WWII, with no disperants used, yet there was no lasting sign of it ever. Something in the ocean must be eating the oil.

Tsk Tsk
September 11, 2012 6:32 pm

What is the impact and duration of the oxygen depletion? I’m sure it isn’t a good thing, but it may well be less of an issue than the oil itself. Still, if there’s a downside I would expect the greens to highlight that as well.

September 11, 2012 7:06 pm

The availability of dissolved oxygen in the water needs to be considered in the determining the rate of consumption of oil and hydrocarbon gas. There is a notional limit of oxygen concentration below which the bacteria will stop metabolising oil/gas (likely dependent upon the type of hydrocarbon on the “plate”). If metabolism is throttled due to lack of oxygen, then oxygenation can be used to accelerate natural remediation.

John West
September 11, 2012 7:12 pm

Philip Bradley says:
People look at me as if I am mad, when I tell them oil spills are good for the environment.
Well, I wouldn’t quite go that far. It depends on the environment. Certainly, the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico are as good a place as any for an oil spill to be consumed by naturally occurring bacteria and assisted by dispersants. When the spill was occurring the first thing people were asking me about was how it would affect the NC coast, since the alarmists were projecting how long it would take to reach Cape Hatteras. I explained then how the dispersants increased the area that bacteria could feed on the oil thereby accelerating its depletion, but that even without dispersants the oil would never make any appreciable appearance on NC shores thanks to our microscopic friends. I think they thought I was just a little off my rocker too. Perhaps I’ll send them all a link to this post.
An example of the typical alarmist nonsense people were taken in by: “This amount of oil may be enough to kill off or contaminate all marine life within the Gulf of Mexico, to foul the coastline throughout the Gulf and, thanks to the Gulf Stream, through much of the Eastern Seaboard, at least to Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and possibly beyond.”

September 11, 2012 7:15 pm

I guess this is why the media have been reporting all day today that the tar balls on the beaches are “definitely” from the oil spill. Have to keep up the paranoia!
Of course, when I was a kid in Pensacola during the fifties, we used to find tar balls on the beach all the time — long before there were wells in the Gulf.

Tom Jones
September 11, 2012 7:33 pm

Before we get too excited about 200,000 tons that were gobbled up, remember that the spill was 650,000 tons of crude and 500,000 tons of gas. Those guys have a lot of eating left to do.

September 11, 2012 7:34 pm

There are no credible data or analysis pointing to the existence of ‘Anthropogenic Global Warming’!
The IPCC, its writers and reviewers, in sum is the Piltdown Man of the 21st century.
Cheers IPCC

September 11, 2012 7:38 pm

The deeper layers of the Gulf may have looked something like the home aquarium experiencing a bacterial bloom, and just like with that bacterial bloom, as suddenly as it begins it ends when either the nutrients that produced it are metabolized or the bacteria in question are eaten or they poison themselves with their own excretions. If not all the oil was eaten, then it was probably one of the last two, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just means the system is settling back towards equilibrium.

September 11, 2012 7:45 pm

Life from petroleum:

September 11, 2012 7:52 pm

What is the consequence of 200,000 tons of bacteria poo on the Gulf environment?

Gunga Din
September 11, 2012 8:10 pm

As far as I know, the USS Arizona is still seeping oil 70 years after she went down. Where’s it all gone?

September 11, 2012 8:35 pm

Isn’t another name for dispersant, detergent.
There are about 40 genera of oil eating bacteria in the Gulf. I don’t know that we can translate this information about oil spills to the north slope. It is a different kind of crude and the bacteria may not be the same and probably would not act as quickly due to he low water temperature.

Steve R
September 11, 2012 9:49 pm

I believe BP tried to point this out but it only made the administrations push their boot even harder to their throat.

September 11, 2012 10:19 pm

Amoco Cadiz oil spill offers optimism when follow up 15 years after that disaster. The marsh which was compulsively cleansed counter-intuitively had it’s area original area of vegetation at +/- 30% less ; whereas the contaminated marsh not cleaned up had it’s original area of vegetation increased +/- 21% (Mar Pollut Bull vol. 30, issue 12: 780–787).
Spills are worked on by micro-organisms that utilize nitrate as electron acceptors as well as oxygen. Dispersants set up more biofilms & in biofilms microbial horizontal gene transfers can occur.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
September 11, 2012 11:07 pm

man in a barrel says:
September 11, 2012 at 4:11 pm
No, it’s not possible to know the answer to a misplaced question. You see, bacteria are responsible for replacing damage with clean water. Your question is asked as though the bacteria had not acted. So really, you’re seeming to be looking for something to be worried about.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
September 11, 2012 11:11 pm

Bernd Felsche says:
September 11, 2012 at 7:06 pm
Oxygenation sounds suspiciously like geoengineering based on the postulation that the bacteria need a minimum oxygen level. The ocean contains every range of aerobic to anaerobic organism. No need to worry.

Steve C
September 11, 2012 11:46 pm

Nice to wake up to a bit of good news for once – I’d been vaguely intending to ask how the Gulf was doing these days and now I don’t have to. Bacteria are amazing, it sometimes seems there’s nothing that doesn’t have a bacterium to eat it. Not sure about that “dessert and coffee” quote though – my instant mental picture was of overfed bacteria lying back like bloated cartoon characters, with hugely distended bellies and emitting belches on a royal scale. Did no-one see the bubbles? 🙂

Don K
September 12, 2012 12:13 am

aaron says:
September 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm
This is why it baffles me that people are concerned about arctic drilling spills.
It’s a lot colder in the Arctic (Duh). Probably a different bacterial suite and very likely slower growing. Some oil from the Exxon Valdez in Cook Inlet is said to be still around and in depressingly undeteriorated condition after more than two decades. Sure bacteria will eat Arctic oil spills … eventually. The question is how long is eventually.

Peter Hannan
September 12, 2012 12:37 am

I love bacteria (and archaea), so varied and versatile, and making up 50% of total biomass on the planet. We have so much to learn still. I even love at least studying salmonella and other bugs that occasionally give me grief here in Mexico. But I hope that recognising that bacteria can help clear up human pollution won’t lead to a Gaia-gooey overconfidence, that whatever we do can be dealt with by ‘Mother Earth’.
I just wrote that without really thinking through the idea, it just came out; but, I wonder (now reflecting a bit), isn’t the confidence that we can do what we like, and Nature (or however we conceptualise the systems that we live in) will adapt, rather similar to Lovelock’s hypothesis of Gaia as a self-sustaining, quasi-live entity? I don’t accept Lovelock’s scientific formulation of ‘Gaia’, still less the eco-mystic versions that derived from his work. But it’s easy to fall into that mode of thinking, and so not recognise serious damage to ecosystems (as Tom Jones says, what about the 950,000 tons of hydrocarbons that the bacteria appear not to have eaten yet?).

Bruce of Newcastle
September 12, 2012 1:12 am

I said this at Jeff Id’s a few weeks after the blowout. The whole bottom of the Gulf is probably one big sulfur deposit due to the oil seeps and other organic matter feeding the SRB’s, who extract oxygen out of sulfate out of the seawater and excrete H2S which then oxidises to sulfur. Five years after the similar Ixtoc-1 blowout you were hard pressed to see any effect at all. The main difference with that event is that Pemex is owned by the Mexican government, so when asked to compensate people they politely said ‘get lost’.
Exxon Valdez was a different beast because bacteria don’t like cold.
When the Budel zinc smelter people started up their SRB effluent treatment plant all they did was go down to the estury, fill a bucket with mud and dump it into the reactor and wait. Natural selection did the rest. Same here.

September 12, 2012 1:16 am

When the “disaster” was in progress I saw an interview with a microbiologist on the BBC. They were discussing how bacteria would clean up the remaining oil, and he said that the problem for the bacteria was that it was limited by the availability of iron, and that adding iron supplements would dramatically improve the clean up rates.
The BBC person asked if this information has been passed on to the people in charge of the cleanup, and he said that he had tried unsuccessfully to get anyone to listen to him ;(

Olaf Koenders
September 12, 2012 1:24 am

..”When if fact the economic impacts were positive as the oil apparently acted like a fertilizer“..
That’s right OCB. I was once severely admonished by the caretakers of the caravan park where I was living back in ’86 for dumping my sump oil on a barely grassed, sandy area being converted to more spaces.
After having seen the glorious fertilising results of people trying to keep the grass at bay around their caravans by spraying sump oil (they should have used diesel), I observed that after about 2 months of toxicity, the oil biodegraded and became great fertiliser.
I foretold to the caretakers that in a few months this would be the greenest patch on their precious black sand of death. Naturally, I had to point this out when my quatrain revealed itself several weeks later. I’d always told them to use diesel to control rampant grass. I think they finally got the message.
Hydrocarbons are a great energy source as we know and, adding further carbon, sulphur and nitrate compounds to oil by running it in an engine only serves to make it better for the environment.

Bob Layson
September 12, 2012 2:19 am

The moral is that one creature’s pollution is another creature’s lunch.

Bloke down the pub
September 12, 2012 3:46 am

If fertilizer run-off in the Mississipi causes a dead zone in the Gulf, how much does US rainfall affect the ability of bacteria to eat an oil spill?

Bloke down the pub
September 12, 2012 3:59 am

On a side issue, it was President Obama’s continuing use of the term British Petroleum, despite the company being largely US owned and called BP for years previous, that made me realise what a light-weight you had for a president. As long as he could divert attention from his own administration’s faillings he kept up the show of righteous indignation at a ‘foreign’ company. Perhaps to borrow one of the techniques he used, all wind turbines should have a web cam pointed at them so everyone can see how often they’re turning.

Crispin in Waterloo
September 12, 2012 4:46 am

Thanks Bruce for mentioning the PEMEX spill. The Deepwater blowout is touted as “the worst spill” but only for US waters, not for the Gulf. The PEMEX blowout was far larger and ran for much longer. Two years after capping the ‘evidence’ was basically gone.

Bill Hunter
September 12, 2012 5:20 am

TimTheToolMan says:
September 11, 2012 at 5:40 pm
“So they’re using a proxy for approximating bacterial activity and hence oil consumed and that proxy tells them 40% of the oil remains but they dont know where it is. I suspect its taken up residence with the missing heat.”
Hmmm. . . .up to 9 light years from earth? What kind of alien bacteria is this! 😉

September 12, 2012 5:40 am

“…..adding further carbon, sulphur and nitrate compounds to oil by running it in an engine only serves to make it better for the environment.”
Olaf, not sure I’d go that far considering the heavy metals that accumulate in motor oil from the fuel additives and bearing wash.

September 12, 2012 6:01 am

Interesting press release here on the subject of microbes and oil, dating back to 1999. I copy some excerpts below. I like the phrase “surface chauvinism”
Cornell astronomer looks at our deep hot biosphere and finds it teeming with life , and controversy
FOR RELEASE: Jan. 26, 1999
ITHACA, N.Y. — The ideas come crowding in: Deep within the Earth’s crust is a vast ecosystem of primitive bacteria nurtured by a reservoir of hydrocarbons of unimaginable size, much of it untapped. Even more: The microbes predate all of the planet’s other life forms, existing even before photosynthesis became the preferred life-giving form.
In a new book, The Deep Hot Biosphere (Copernicus/Springer-Verlag, $27), Cornell Professor emeritus of astronomy Thomas Gold argues that subterranean bugs are us — or at least they started the whole evolutionary process
Founder and director of Cornell’s Center for Radiophysics and Space Research for two decades, Gold is hardly a stranger to sticking his neck out. He has been proven right in such diverse realms as a theory of hearing, the interpretation of pulsars and a theory of the Earth’s axis of rotation.
But Gold’s most controversial idea, as physicist Freeman Dyson notes in the book’s forward, is that of the nonbiological origin of natural gas and oil, which he first proposed more than 20 years ago. These hydrocarbons, Gold postulated, come from deep reservoirs and are composed of the material from which the Earth condensed. The idea that hydrocarbons coalesced from organic material is, he says, quite wrong. The biological molecules found in oil, he avers, show only that the oil is contaminated by microbes, not that it was produced by them.
Some researchers, and in particular petroleum geologists, have taken issue with Gold’s proposal. They are likely to be even more put out by his new book, which says that these microbes populate the Earth’s interior down to a depth of several miles and that everything we see living on the planet’s surface is only a small part of the biosphere. The greater part, and the ancient part, is very deep and very hot.
Indeed, Gold shows irritation at a scientific community that “has typically sought only surface life in the heavens.” Scientists, he writes, “have been hindered by a sort of ‘surface chauvinism.'”
The heavens?
Absolutely, says Gold. “Spectroscopic evidence is very strong for many planetary bodies. The prime example is Titan [a moon of Saturn], which has clouds of ethane and methane. They interchange with the surface, so there must be lakes or oceans of liquid ethane or methane. Once you know that, it’s clear they came outside from the body within.”
On Earth, says Gold, there is clear evidence that subsurface microbial life still exists; for example, in the discovery of primitive microbes in hot ocean vents. “We pulled up bugs from five kilometers down in the granite in Sweden. They were perfectly alive and probably the earliest life form on the planet,” he says. The primitive microbes, he notes, are thermophiles and hyperthermophiles, heat-loving archaebacteria.
Photosynthesis, his book argues, “developed in offshoots of subterranean life that had progressed toward the surface and then evolved a way to use photons to supply even more chemical energy.” When surface conditions such as temperature and liquid water became favorable to life, surface life was able to blossom.
In the eons since, the deep world of microbes has had to rely on chemical energy, the oxidation of hydrocarbons, ranging from methane to petroleum, as the organisms emerge upwards from deep reservoirs below. “Every oil-bearing region in the world must have large amounts of microbiology,” he says.
Writes Gold: “In my view, hydrocarbons are not biology reworked by geology (as the traditional view would hold) but rather geology reworked by biology. In other words, hydrocarbons are primordial, but as they upwell into Earth’s outer crust microbial life invades.”

Rob Potter
September 12, 2012 6:06 am

Of course this result is not a surprise – many people said this many times during and just after the spill – but with the best will in the world, how much do you think the media wanted to publish a “move along, nothing to see here” story during this time? What we have now is peer-reviewed (yes, I know, but we still have to use it until we get something better) quantification of how bacteria do it. This will be cited in future reports and should be included in future oils spill clean up plans.

September 12, 2012 6:56 am

A bit OT but has anybody else heard that the EU has announced that Bio-Fuels are no longer PC especially when food supplies are short they seem to want to remove all subsidies can this be a retreat of sorts??

Kelvin Vaughan
September 12, 2012 7:00 am

Bob Layson says:
September 12, 2012 at 2:19 am
The moral is that one creature’s pollution is another creature’s lunch.
My dog knows that only too well!

Charlie Z
September 12, 2012 7:08 am

Good deal. Glad that nature is taking things into its own hands.
I am curious about the headline though. What’s with the sarcasm? “inconvenient”? There is no opposing side brought up in the post and no argument that said opposing side is being proved wrong. The sarcasm of the headline is completely unfitting of the contents of the body of the post. Its just a “take that environmentalists” headline with no substance to why and what they should be taking. I am pretty sure that just about everyone doesn’t want huge oil spills and that just about everyone is happy when they were mitigated by natural processes.
What I mean is that it is sometimes OK to just post some good informative news without sarcastic knife twisting – no?

Kelvin Vaughan
September 12, 2012 7:15 am

Bloke down the pub says:
September 12, 2012 at 3:59 am
Perhaps to borrow one of the techniques he used, all wind turbines should have a web cam pointed at them so everyone can see how often they’re turning.

September 12, 2012 7:18 am

That is good to hear and expected. The cold water in Alaska doesn’t lend itself to quick digestion so they still have (and will have) oily spots long after the gulf will be back to normal.

September 12, 2012 7:31 am

Here is something else inconvenient.

Twice an Exxon Valdez spill worth of oil seeps into the Gulf of Mexico every year, according to a new study that will be presented January 27 at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
But the oil isn’t destroying habitats or wiping out ocean life. The ooze is a natural phenomena that’s been going on for many thousands of years, according to Roger Mitchell, Vice President of Program Development at the Earth Satellite Corporation (EarthSat) in Rockville Md. “The wildlife have adapted and evolved and have no problem dealing with the oil,” he said.

California oil seeps

James F. Evans
September 12, 2012 9:25 am

Yes, this is an important observation.
It points to a basic approach to oil spills:
1.) Large powerful mechanical oil skimmers (The use of the largest oil skimmer in the world was declined for a time during the Deep Water Horizon disaster inexplicably even though it was offered immediately after the oil spill). So, having large oil skimmers available is important.
2,) Develop hydrocarbon eating bacteria which can be dispersed at the oil spill site and surrounding area, which will eat the hydrocarbons.
With aggressive use of the above strategies, the use of Corexit can be minimized or not used at all because there is evidence Corexit is toxic.
Of course, all of this remediation of oil spills is no substitute for the safety protocol to insure oil spills don’t happen in the first place. Remember, the Deep Water Horizon was the first major oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in over 40 years of offshore oil drilling in the Gulf.

Louis Hooffstetter
September 12, 2012 10:23 am

Robert of Ottawa says:
“Well, now we know how to clan up oil spills anywhere, right?”
Not quite. The persistence of the oil in the sediments of Prince William Sound (from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill) shows that organisms that eat oil are not abundant there. They may not be well suited for cold climates.

Louis Hooffstetter
September 12, 2012 10:59 am

gator69 says:
“… petroleum is organic in nature, and just mother’s milk to some.”
Several years ago, a surveyor friend of mine was hired to survey a diesel spill in marshes along the St. John’s River near Jacksonville, Fl. The survey was then used to assess monetary damages against the barge company responsible. During the initial survey, RTK GPS was used to delineate the boundaries of the spill. Several day later, the affected area was clearly visible as the marsh grass began to die. The following year, he went back to re-survey the same area. He found that the spill area was still easily discernible, but this time it was characterized by healthy, bright green grass that was about 6″ taller than the surrounding marsh. He said it looked like the diesel fuel had fertilized the marsh.
“Dose makes the poison” – Paracelsus

September 12, 2012 11:23 am

Don K,
The article is not at all about the cold. The oil is in the sand. There are two reasons, the spill was on the surface and still waters of the sound.

September 12, 2012 11:27 am

The bacteria involved with DWH actually work best in the cold. How cold and what pressures, I don’t know.
The arctic must have its own bacteria or there’d be pools of oil under the ice.

September 12, 2012 11:31 am

Rough Seas ,natural waves ,storms and currents break up most oil spils.Natural bacteria in the ocean break down and eats up the Oil.
Exonn Valdez was so bad because it s an inland waterway .No waves and Ocean to break down the Oil.

September 12, 2012 11:41 am
“The bacteria we saw in the deep-water samples in May and June were related to types of psychrophilic, or cold-loving bacteria. Most bacteria grow more slowly at cooler temperatures –– that’s why we keep our food in the refrigerator. But psychrophilic bacteria actually grow faster at cold temperatures than they would at room temperature.”

September 12, 2012 11:56 am

I also want to take a second to agree with Charlie Z. Sometimes I want to share links to WUWT content, but the tone makes it so I can’t.

Luther Wu
September 12, 2012 1:53 pm

aaron says:
September 12, 2012 at 11:56 am
I also want to take a second to agree with Charlie Z. Sometimes I want to share links to WUWT content, but the tone makes it so I can’t.
aaron and Charlie Z,
This is a “told you so” thread.
Where were you when the Deepwater Horizon tragedy unfolded?
There was a constant barrage of propaganda, propelled by very ugly words issuing from every pore of the ecoloonysphere, from the White House, on down.
Anyone daring to post the idea that nature would resolve the issue over time, opened themselves up to hateful diatribes and for those involved, punitive measures from officialdom.
Most of the people posting here know that they are the subject of daily, intense vilification by the adherents of the ideas of CAGW. We are continuously bombarded by inanities passing as wisdom or scientific truth.
Have you ever tried posting a contrary thought on one of the catastrophe- promoting blogs like Real Climate, or Climate Realist?
What do you think of their tone?
How do you think that ideas which are logically, scientifically and emphatically unsound have been allowed to flourish over there, for years?
Like you, I’m all for civility in most matters.
While Pollyanna- ish attitudes might feel good, the only path an honest man can take is to deal with the world as it is.
Are we having too much fun (again) at the expense of the doomsayers?
Not sure if it’s too much, but it sure is fun.

September 12, 2012 3:52 pm

OK, sure, micro-organisms eat the oil, and the traces of stuff mixed in with it, and turn it into ???
And what was that bit about it stopping after 5 months? Did the water get too cold? Was there not enough sun-light? Did the micro-organisms get belly-aches and take naps like lions? Where’s the rest of the story?

Stas Peterson
September 12, 2012 5:06 pm

Mr. Hoofstader,
The Enviros psuedo-scientists testified to the Congress, that the Prince William Sound had “not returned to normal” three years after the spill.
It was “not normal” because there was “too much” life there. The Oil spill fed and fertilized a lot of bacteria who where than consumed up the food chain, multiplying the life at each level.
Their fundamental premise that the environment is FRAGILE. There is no evidence that it is indeed the case except for very brief periods.
The enviros can talk of a a couple of tanker spills and Amoco Cadiz and the Prince William sound Exxon Valdiz tanker, but completely overlook that more than 5000 tankers were torpedoed and sunk during WW II, to no apparent permanent damage to the Oceans.

September 12, 2012 7:01 pm

That’s interesting, oil spill dispersants are my field of work.
Dispersed oil is more available to all organisms in the spillage area, this is known from a long time. The consequences are higher acute toxicity but faster degradation of the oil, and what is the final balance between the two effects changes from case to case.
All dispersants have some amount of toxicity, even the greenest ones. Corexit is probably the most well-known of all and at least to me it does not seem particularly malignant. The fact is, dispersed oil is sensibly more toxic than dispersants to marine life. For response workers, some types of Corexit (there isn’t only one) may be more toxic due to the glycol ether solvent.
A bit of history: injection of dispersants at the wellhead or plume origin for underwater oil spills was initially proposed in the early 90’s but as far as I know used in practice only for the Deepwater Horizon disaster, and as we can see here its effects still have to be understood in full.
Bioremediation also works – not as a first response measure, of course. For that, mechanical recovery (skimming) is the best option.
Rather than adding oil-degrading bacteria, which most often are not well adapted to local conditions, it is better to use specialty nutrients that can provide nitrogen and phosphrous to the indigenous micro-organisms. There are some interesting success stories for this technique.
I wouldn’t really say that oil spillages are beneficial for the environment or no big deal.
But they are often not the lifelong catastrophe they are portrayed to be. A big problem is that many factors affect the outcome: location of the spill; nature of the spilled product; magnitude and type of the response/cleanup efforts. It’s not easy to make predictions.

September 12, 2012 7:16 pm

href=”″ Stas Peterson:
“The enviros can talk of a a couple of tanker spills and Amoco Cadiz and the Prince William sound Exxon Valdiz tanker, but completely overlook that more than 5000 tankers were torpedoed and sunk during WW II, to no apparent permanent damage to the Oceans.”
I think that if you’re a fisherman seeing your fish dead or tainted by the spilled oil it won’t be of much confort to know that the oil will be gone in a few years. Your immediate concern is how to make a living in the next few months.
This is not to start a diatribe, mind you.

will smith
September 13, 2012 7:04 am

Gee, it certainly appears that there are total idiots that believe spills of this magnitude are good for the environment.
Holy crap!

Brian H
September 13, 2012 11:10 pm

When bacteria decompose? There is no non-bio process of decomposition. They must have been et by other bacteria. It’s bacteria all the way down.

David Cage
September 14, 2012 12:03 am

The really interesting question is whether these bacteria exist elsewhere and if not whether they could be bred to live in the temperatures elsewhere.

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