Gulf spill, bioengineered life, and oil-eating bacteria

  1. EnumaElish

    EnumaElish 2,332
    Science Advisor
    Homework Helper

    Last edited: May 21, 2010
  2. jcsd
  3. I am interested to know about this as well. Oil eating bacteria (and other micro organisms) have been touted for decades as an amazing innovation. If there was ever a chance to prove their utility, the BP oil spill is one. I wonder why no one is talking about them?
  4. TubbaBlubba

    TubbaBlubba 105
    Gold Member

    Wouldn't this be akin to setting the stuff on fire, anyway? The oil-eating bacteria would almost certainly oxidize the hydrocarbons into CO2, in which case you might as well, you know, burn it.
  5. mheslep

    mheslep 3,404
    Gold Member

    Not all hydrocarbons are created equal. When burned, petroleum in particular produces large amounts of soot, aka black smoke, and anything burned at high temperature in the atmosphere produces nitrogen oxides. Bacteria does none of the above.

  6. Yes, but it is that CO2 and the oxidizing process that... wait for it... causes hypoxic regions in oceans. In fact, naturally occurring bacteria in the ocean may help the cleanup, while killing large regions much as they might render a human host dead. There needs to be a balanced approach, not just a cosmetic one.
  7. mheslep

    mheslep 3,404
    Gold Member

    I take your point. Given the scale of O2 in the ocean, does it really stand to be depleted by bacteria at scale consuming the oil leaked (and not already captured or removed) over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico? Also I'm not sure if I'd call the products of the combustion of all that oil a cosmetic effect.
  8. Oh, no not the whole gulf, that seems kind of mad. Hypoxic regions where high concentrations of oil exist, sure. I was referring to the use of bacteria as cosmetic by the way, not burning. Burning has a place, but a limited one. Frankly, there is no substitute for oil-water separation and reclamation. The issue of hypoxia at depths of 3000 feet and more however, could be very real without the addition of any bacteria not already present. This isn't going to kill the world of course, but bacteria munching on O2 has an effect, and how much of a reduction in concentrations does it take to kill some species? I really don't know offhand, but maybe I should research that.

    I think the concentrations near coastlines and at depths are a bigger issue than the total amount, given that those bacteria exist because plenty of oil already leaks naturally.
  9. Ygggdrasil

    Ygggdrasil 1,824
    Science Advisor

    I'm not an expert in the area, but it seems reasonable to worry about oil-eating bacteria creating hypoxic zones in the ocean. Nitrogen and phosphorus runoff from the Mississippi delta is enough to create a hypoxic zone at the Mississippi delta (
  10. mheslep

    mheslep 3,404
    Gold Member

    No doubt, but I wonder if the size of this petroleum spill coming from one pipe compares in size with the forever ongoing effluent of the Mississippi river?
  11. I'll do some research on this tomorrow, but I need to sleep now. I think this is a very good question, and comparing the effects of nitrogen and phosphorus runoff with petroleum is going to be comparing strawberries and raspberries... both drupes, both similar, but different enough to require separate treatments in cooking.
  12. How about oil eating bacteria that are attached to a substrate that absorbs output of metabolic reactions? Substrate would also serve to "bind" oil into floating jelly that can be more easily collected.
  13. I think there is a product that was demonstrated; processed peat infused with bacteria. The peat absorbs the oil immediately, and the bacteria take their time and break it down, but again, you have O2 in, and CO2 out.. same problem. There are also questions about how well any of these will work given the massive use of dispersants.
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