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Bacteria Has Eaten Much of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Travis Ketzak
By Travis Ketzak / July 4, 2017

Recent studies of the Gulf of Mexico have turned up some hopeful and encouraging news. Much of the oil that was spilled during the Deepwater Horizon disaster has been eaten by bacteria in the water.

The disaster, which is considered to be one of the worst environmental catastrophes in history, occurred in April 2010. The Deepwater Horizon oil platform exploded, spilling more than 4 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, a mile below the surface. The ordeal killed 11 people and destroyed the marine ecosystem.

Recovery teams poured special chemicals into the spill to disperse the oil. However, some argued that the chemicals reduced the water’s microbes’ ability to degrade the oil.

Now, seven years later, most of the sea life has recovered. And as it turns out, the chemicals actually helped. The oil dispersed and formed a cloud beneath the surface. Since that cloud was made up of little droplets of oil, there was more surface area exposed for the bacteria to consume.

The study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, identified one particular bacterium, known as Candidatus Bermanella macondoprimitus (which sounds like a crazy Harry Potter spell). It is this bacterium’s genes that are responsible for eating much of the oil.

What this means going forward is that when scouting locations for new oil drilling rigs, the water can be examined for this bacterium, and then precautions and response procedures can be developed accordingly.

Striking oil is great, but safety first, people.