Center for the Environment

Can Mother Nature Take a Punch? - Microbes and the BP Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico

February 21 @ 12:00 AM - 12:00 AM - MRGN 121

Can Mother Nature take a punch and stay standing? If the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is any indication, then the answer seems to be yes. The explosion on April 20, 2010 at the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, resulted in the dispersment of an immense oil plume 4,000 feet below the surface of the water. Despite spanning more than 600 feet in the water column and extending more than 10 miles from the wellhead, the dispersed oil plume was gone within weeks after the wellhead was capped - degraded and diluted to undetectable levels. Furthermore, this degradation took place without significant oxygen depletion. The main degrader was a new and unclassified species of oil-eating bug that apparently lives on the floor of the Gulf where oil seeps are common. Was this event a miracle or simply nature's own environmental restoration crews doing what they do?

Terry Hazen, a microbial ecologist with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and a principal investigator with both the Energy Biosciences Institute and the Joint BioEnergy Institute, led a research team that spent months studying the Gulf spill from the front lines as it unfolded, on board the R/V Ferrel and several other research vessels. Their results, which were published in the on-line edition of Science on August 26, 2010, provided the first data ever on microbial activity from a deepwater dispersed oil plume. This data suggests that a great potential for intrinsic bioremediation of oil plumes exists in the deep-sea.

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