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July 2nd, 2010
01:00 PM ET

Oil-eating microbes could be effective cleanup for BP spill

(CNN) – We've heard about a lot of solutions to cleaning up the Gulf oil spill, but what about oil-eating microbes? Our John Zarrella takes a look at some microscopic bacteria with a big appetite, but is it big enough? Watch Video

Filed under: Gulf Oil Spill
soundoff (15 Responses)
  1. DAVIDS1

    Please look at this company. It uses this technology and works and is ready to help. State and local government on the Gulf needs to take a look at Clean Beach Technologies...this company can truly help remediate the oil problem on the beaches and wash the sand free of contaminents..Everyone too slow to respond as the environment do we get through to people to act?

    July 6, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  2. Smith in Oregon

    Every night, CNN's Anderson Cooper has a duo of angry Parish Presidents expressing their anger about the ongoing Oil recovery and clean-up efforts. Unfortunately this totally one sided view is entirely lacking in actually informing the CNN viewers on the background of decades of Louisiana's favoritism to Oil and Gas drilling has been to destroying those marshes.

    What the angry Louisiana Parish Swamp Presidents are not telling the American public is that since Oil and Gas companys began dredging the marshes for Oil and Gas wells decades ago, Louisiana has lost 2,000 miles of wetlands and marshes.

    Where were those Parish protectors all those years as big Oil destroyed 2,000 Miles of marshes? This year in March 2010 before the Louisiana BP Oil gushing disaster, President Obama began the First comprehensive Louisiana wetlands plan to help repair thousands of miles of Louisiana marshes that already were destroyed before the Louisiana Oil gusher even began. President Obama is the first President to directly address the disappearing marshes in Louisiana due to the dredging for Oil and Gas wells and yet those Parish Presidents now appear to be slapping Obama in the face for his efforts?

    It is a complete lapse for CNN's Anderson Cooper to not inform its viewers that extensive wide-scale damage to Louisiana's Marshes have occured directly by the Oil and Gas exploration in Louisiana long before the latest Louisiana BP Oil gusher in the Gulf of Mexico. Where were these angry Parish Presidents during all the past decades as 2,000 Miles of these same marshes disappeared?

    July 6, 2010 at 5:30 am |
  3. Ron

    I wouldn't be getting too excited about this solution. This was apparently tried during the Exxon Valez spill with negligible benefit.

    The researchers that are proposing this may even be treading on some dangerous ground by suggesting that the addition of nutrients (phosporous and nitrogen) to the oil would accelerate the microbial activity. Adding these nutrients will pose its own problems. Accelerating microbial mutation is another method being attempted in hopes that human directed evolution may create a super oil eating microbe. I don't have to draw a picture to highlight the dangers that might result if this sort of research is highly "successful".

    July 5, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
  4. larry S

    Those microbes exist in nature anyway. There are some selected species that metabolize oils better than others, but none of these bacteria are really Frankengerms.

    In time, most of the oil fragments can be biodegraded, but that can take quite a long time.

    If you have the oil and water in a closed system where you can adjust the other nutrients the bacteria need, the water temperature, the
    aeration, etc then you can hurry the process.

    I dont believe that you can take these selected bacteria and introduce them into ocean or marshes and expect them to do a lot of good.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  5. Mrs. MC

    If I can remember back as far as Valdez with any accuracy (doubtful, since pimples were my biggest concern at the time), oil-eating microbes are actually pretty old news.

    I don't know how well-tested they are...

    ...but given that I'm not an environmentalist, a scientist, or a petroleum engineer and I can remember knowing about them as much as 10 years ago, my first question would be why they haven't already been tried.

    Is there some major downside the article isn't talking about???

    Or are skimmers and dispersants where the money is at???

    July 5, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Jason M

    Spraying the microbes with phosphates and iron onto shores, and salt marshes would work, but spraying them onto the slick in the gulf doesn't do much, they get diluted, and well it just doesn't work, although spraying phosphates and iron on the oil slick, will enrich it with nutrients that the naturally occuring microbes int he gulf water will use to accelerate the breakdown of the oil.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  7. Oleg

    Fabulous idea! As they said in Jurassic park, what could possibly go wrong with a microorganism that devours a staple of modern civilization? After all, we would have no reservation in deploying rice-killing fungus to clear off some unwanted patches.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  8. Tom

    These microbes are harvested from the bottom of the ocean so I think we can consider them safe.

    July 5, 2010 at 9:27 am |
  9. Rob

    The lack of use of bioremediation,aka microbes, shows just how disconnected people are from the natural world. These things have a life span of a few hours. They can literally be made to evolve into oil eating machines that do not need any nutrients other than the crude. They die when the job is done because their niche has disappeared. They do not become a problem because all the other microbes already fill the other spots. If humans want to live in a better world they will soon realize that ecology has the power we are going to need to survive and flourish.

    July 4, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  10. paul

    What else are they going to eat, our sea of harvest fish , crabs, ect, or boats to get the oil, how about under ocean oil wells will they mutate? if so what will they eat, will they cause wide spread disease? will they be able to control the mutates? i am more in favour of skimming and reharvest the lost oil, any company that can reharvest the lost oil should have the oil free of charge,

    July 4, 2010 at 8:48 pm |

    What a welcome development, kudos to those scientist.

    July 4, 2010 at 10:57 am |
  12. H. Jere

    Has anybody at BP considered using a long 1 mile by 30' diameter nylon tube which can be put over the device which is leaking (put it over the device at the last minute by robots). You're not trying to stop the leak given the huge pressure, you're just directing the oil up the tube to ships which are sucking all the oil that is rising.

    This is just a giant straw where the oil comes up and is captured.


    July 3, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  13. Brian

    Be careful on what you release almost all organisms that have been released into the wild to counter a threat ended up causing more harm then good and the old rule still applies, the smaller the organism is the easier it can mutate. Never let a politician make technical/scientific decisions unless they can be easily fixed, releasing organisms to the wild especially microbes cannot be un-done.

    July 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  14. jim

    What would be the result of placing a giant electrical sparker,
    or a big acetylene torch (with it's own oxygen)
    right in the middle of the outflow from the pipe?

    July 3, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  15. Emmie

    this sounds too good to be true, i mean, little clean up bugs? theyll take care of all your problems, honest! what is the downside? do they also have an appetite for, say, little sea creatures? perhaps they happen to produce a toxic chemical as a waste product...or can they even handle such a huge job at all? i know we should be doing all we can to help with this spill, but certainly not before we THOROUGHLY research these things and the impact they may have on the environment even if they will eat up all the oil.

    July 3, 2010 at 12:23 am |