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Nearly 200,000 tons of oil and gas from BP oil spill consumed by bacteria


The BP oil spill was devastating to coral and wildlife (Image courtesy of Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007, NOAA-OE)
The BP oil spill was devastating to coral and wildlife (Image courtesy of Expedition to the Deep Slope 2007, NOAA-OE)

Staff writers

September 15, 2012 — Bacteria has helped remove 200,000 tons of sludge spewed into the ocean during the 2010 BP oil spill.

Oil spills - like this one from June 1979 - can wreak havoc on the ecosystem (Image courtsey of NOAA/Department of Commerce)
Oil spills - like this one from June 1979 - can wreak havoc on the ecosystem (Image courtsey of NOAA/Department of Commerce)

In the months following the BP oil spill, bacteria helped remove a "significant" amount of oil and natural gas from the Gulf of Mexico.

The findings come courtesy of a new study by the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University, published in a recent issue of Environmental Science and Technology.

Scientists pored over data in the hope of gaining a better understanding of how the ocean reacted to the spill. By measuring the amount of oxygen removed from the gulf after the 2010 disaster, scientists were able to determine how much oil the bacteria consumed, along with the consumption rate.

Interestingly, the bacteria stopped consuming five months after the spill, leaving about 40 per cent of the sludge behind.

It's unclear whether the bacteria are simply "taking a break" or if they have eaten their fill.

"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," said study co-author John Kessler in a statement. "It appears that the hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers." 

Scientists hope the findings will help better predict the behaviour of future oil spills.


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