How microbes helped clean up Deepwater Horizon

Posted Sep 5, 2013 by Tim Sandle
Bacteria living in the Gulf of Mexico beaches were able to "eat up" the contamination from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. This finding could help with tackling future oil spills.
Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.
Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon.
US Coast Guard
Detailed genetic analysis has revealed that some of bacteria were able to reduce the amount of oil washed up on beaches from the Deep water Horizon disaster because they were able to ingest the of oil. This finding has been outlined in a presentation made to the 2013 Goldschmidt Conference.
Deepwater Horizon was an ultra-deepwater, semi-submersible offshore oil drilling rig. In 2010 the oil rig failed and it was responsible for the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. At approximately 9:45 p.m. CDT, on 20 April 2010, high-pressure methane gas from the well expanded into the drilling riser and rose into the drilling rig, where it ignited and exploded, engulfing the platform. From this, the total discharge has since been estimated at 4.9 million barrels (210 million US gallons).
In analyzing the after-effects of the oil spill, researchers have found that, for certain bacteria, oil is similar to the standard array of nutrients. This is because oil is made of decayed plants and animals, and so is similar to the normal food sources for these bacteria. By studying certain bacteria, researchers have found that the bacteria work faster if they have more available nitrogen. In theory, where oil has been washed up onto beaches and the key bacteria are present, then spraying nitrogen fertilizer onto contaminated beaches should speed up the work of the bacteria. This would need to be done in a controlled way so that the fertilizer does not itself become a pollutant.
Scientists hope that by using genetic techniques, they will be able to select for certain types of bacteria and use these top help deal with any future environmental disasters based around oil spills.