Tiny Organisms that Eat Oil Can Help in Cleaning Up Oil Spills

What happened to all the oil? That was at least one question weighing on the minds of leading scientists after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion. Since that incident was more than five years ago, let us recap. Deepwater Horizon was an oil drilling rig that had endured an explosion, resulting in a massive fire that caused it to sink. Unfortunately there were injuries and regrettably lives lost. Aside from the human lives that were greatly impacted, it caused a massive offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Throughout recorded history, this event is the largest accidental marine oil spill in the world, and by far one of the most catastrophic environmental disasters in U.S. history.

In an effort to keep the oil contained and minimize the potential disaster, many organizations and groups deployed a number of technologies. Among the deployment was newly developed chemical compounds that would evoke the oil to congeal and sink, as opposed to drifting to shore. But that is when the question was asked among the top scientists, “What happened to all the oil?” Considering the vast amount of oil that had spilled, the recovery from surface slicks and beaches was minimal. Even considering what was trapped in deeper ocean layers under thermal barriers still left everyone scratching their heads. The calculations determine there is in fact missing oil.

It is now being believed that Mother Nature has a few more tricks up her sleeve then we originally supposed. Tiny organisms in the ocean are appearing to be capable of eating oil in the water, and purifying the ocean waters on their own. Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin who decoded the genomes of oil eating organisms believe that microscopic bacteria played a crucial role in the cleanup of the 2010 BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill. These findings were published in the Nature Microbiology journal and suggest that certain bacteria have a far greater potential for containing chemical pollution in the ocean than previously supposed. This is obviously promising news in regards to future oil spills and how we can take advantage of the natural environmental response.

This isn’t the first time scientists have seen an amazing feat. The methane seeps on the northern permafrost and other ocean floors were discovered to be a unique form of bacteria not only living, but thriving. These extremophiles have appeared in countless circumstances around the world to show man that life finds a way to utilize energy in any form. A seemingly slower process than the advances of mans technology, but always more effective.

With this new discovery, scientists hope to harness the organisms for a natural, organic alternative to cleaning up spills in effort to avoid dumping more toxic chemicals to contain the spilled oil. Along with this endeavor, many people and groups including Texas Heritage Protection are hoping this will enlighten people to look for more natural methods in other solving other dilemmas.