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Buttonstc's avatar

Why are they not using bioremediation on the Gulf oil spill ? Evidently these are naturally occuring microbes, available in powdered form, which feed on the oil and digest it into harmless compounds.

Asked by Buttonstc (27574points) June 1st, 2010 from iPhone

Since nothing else seems to be working and dispersants are just as toxic to wildlife, what would be the downside here ?

I’m hoping someone with more scientific knowledge than I could provide some insight on this.

A friend of mine sent me an email about it and it sounds pretty sensible to me. But I’m not a scientist so would like the knowledge of others on this.

When I checked it out, a sort of parralel concept sprang to mind. For people whose pets go out in their yards and pick up fleas, they have a new non chemical treatment now. Namely, the use of nematodes, which feed on flea eggs and larvae has markedly improved flea control during the warmer months. This is a totally natural biological remedy without having to treat the ground with harsh toxic chemicals.

I realize that oil eating microbes are different from nematodes, but the underlying principle seems the same, doesn’t it ?

The website looked legit and the video was evidently produced by the Texas State Dept. of Wildlife so I’m trying to figure out why either BP or the govt. isn’t using this option.

I mean, it’s not as if anything else they’ve tried has produced such stellar results. More like no results at all.

And evidently the cost of this method is a fraction of other remediation techniques. Wouldn’t it make sense to give this a try ? Why are they adverse to even trying it out on a small area, if nothing else instead of allowing the marshes and entire ecosystem to be destroyed ?

So, what’s going on here ? I’m puzzled.

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6 Answers

Seaofclouds's avatar

I’m not a scientist, but the site you linked does say “The microbes are simply mixed with water and sprayed on the oil as it reaches the calmer waters near shore or on shore itself.” That could be the reason right there. A lot of the oil is beneath the surface and ideally, they want to take care of without letting all of it get to the calmer waters near the shore. Not to mention that no matter what we do to clean up what is already there, it’s just going to be replaced with more oil until we stop the leak.

Right now, I believe the focus is on stopping the leak. They are trying something new now, but that will take a few days before we will know if it is successful. I will give BP some credit. Each time something fails, they are right there trying something new without wasting a lot of time in between attempts. It sucks that they haven’t stopped the leak yet, but I honestly think they are trying.

On another site, I saw that these microbes use oxygen to “eat” the oil, there by depleting the oxygen available for the fish there in the water. So it’s not exactly 100% without it’s own cost either.

It does sound like a great idea for clean up, as long as it can be used before all the oil gets to the shore and it can get to the water that’s under the surface.

lillycoyote's avatar

I’m no expert but here’s one article about why bioremediation is not a magic bullet.

Buttonstc's avatar


Thanks for that interesting article. My understanding was that they were urging caution for using detergents (dispersants) because they create a nutrient rich environment which acts against the development of naturally occuring microbes.

So, if anything, that would be an argument for using natural microbes RATHER THAN dispersants (detergents).

Dispersants are the standard solution oft employed but they are as toxic as the oil itself.

@SOC. I do realize that the primary effort needs to be toward stopping the gusher.

But I don’t see why both can’t me done simultaneously since significant amounts of the oil have already reached the marshlands.

What struck me as interesting was the similarity between the marsh areas of Galveston and Louisiana and the contrast between the treated areas in Galveston vs. the untreated in as little as 6 mos. time.

I’m referring to the footage toward the end of the short video on the spillfighters site in which they filmed both the treated and untreated marshes in the Galveston area.

That was pretty compelling to me.

susanc's avatar

The spectre of kudzu comes to mind -a non-native bio-organism that was supposed to offset something or other in the natural world, which then took over and tried to eat everything in its path.

SmashTheState's avatar

In British Columbia, they built cities on the coast in the middle of what had been rain forest. Then they complained bitterly about the constant rain and the mosquitos. To combat the mosquitos, they imported Japanese leatherjackets, which eat mosquitos. The problem is that insects are so fecund and breed in such vast quantities that their numbers are not affected by predation, they’re affected only by access to food. Even if 99% are consumed, the 1% which survive will completely resaturate the niche within a single generation. The ultimate result of importing leatherjackets, therefore, were vast populations of mosquitos AND leatherjackets.

I don’t know why she swallowed the fly, I guess she’ll die.

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