Research indicates bacteria broke down majority of Gulf oil spill

Researchers at the University of Rochester have found evidence suggesting that the majority of the oil spilled after the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig might have been consumed by local bacteria.

Many types of bacteria are capable of metabolizing hydrocarbons like the crude oil and natural gas that was spilled into the Gulf of Mexico after the spill, but there has been uncertainty as to how much of this matter was ultimately broken down in this fashion.

According to an assessment spearheaded by Rochester's John Kessler, as much as 200,000 tons or more of oil and natural gas might have been consumed, leaving only around two-fifths of the initial spill in the water by September 2010. In addition, while the full ecological impacts of the practice are not detailed, the study indicates that the controversial use of dispersants might have encouraged this process.

"Interestingly, the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead," said Kessler. "While there is still much to learn about the appropriateness of using dispersants in a natural ecosystem, our results suggest it made the released hydrocarbons more available to the native Gulf of Mexico microorganisms."

PennEnergy's Research area details the impact of the oil spill on U.S. oil policy.

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