the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Are Deep Oil Rigs Safer

Posted by Jeff Id on September 9, 2010

Microbes ate BP oil deep-water plume: study

By Deborah Zabarenko, Environment CorrespondentPosted 2010/08/24 at 3:37 pm EDT

WASHINGTON, Aug. 24, 2010 (Reuters) — A Manhattan-sized plume of oil spewed deep into the Gulf of Mexico by BP’s broken Macondo well has been consumed by a newly discovered fast-eating species of microbes, scientists reported on Tuesday.

The microbes survive in cold deep water by seeking out leaking oil from natural leaks.

The micro-organisms were apparently stimulated by the massive oil spill that began in April, and they degraded the hydrocarbons so efficiently that the plume is now undetectable, said Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

These so-called proteobacteria — Hazen calls them “bugs” — have adapted to the cold deep water where the big BP plume was observed and are able to biodegrade hydrocarbons much more quickly than expected, without significantly depleting oxygen as most known oil-depleting bacteria do.

Even I called this one a disaster, looks like I’m wrong again.  The biggest oil spill in history, and it’s gone.

H/T Brian H

23 Responses to “Are Deep Oil Rigs Safer”

  1. GregO said


    Fascinating article – I wonder how much play this will get in MSM? My guess is not much.

  2. Howard said

    Everyone in the contamination cleanup industry knows that bugs are the most efficient petroleum destroyers on the planet. I get paid to document the efficiency of bugs working hard to cleanup gasoline and diesel impacts to soil and groundwater. This, however, leaves an anaerobic zone where the bugs are actively feeding.

    What surprises me about the Gulf spill is the lack of severe oxygen depletion. This is great news.

  3. kdk33 said

    Dispersants may have helped.

  4. […] Are Deep Oil Rigs Safer « the Air Vent […]

  5. Kenneth Fritsch said

    It is rather easy to see that a biased (or ignorant or even incompetent) journalist might want to report the first story when he actually has two stories to report with neither contradicting the other. It would very important for the honest journalist and/or journal to report both – kind of like “and for the rest of the story..”

    These latest findings may initially seem to be at odds with a study published last Thursday in Science by researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which confirmed the existence of the oil plume and said micro-organisms did not seem to be biodegrading it very quickly.

    However, Hazen and Rich Camilli of Woods Hole both said on Tuesday that the studies complement each other.

    The Woods Hole team used an autonomous robot submarine and a mass spectrometer to detect the plume, but were forced to leave the area in late June, when Hurricane Alex threatened. At that time, they figured the plume was likely to remain for some time.

    But that was before the well was capped in mid-July. Hazen said that within two weeks of the capping, the plume could not be detected, but there was a phenomenon called marine snow that indicated microbes had been feasting on hydrocarbons.

    As of Tuesday, there was no sign of the plume, Hazen said.

  6. Steve Fitzpatrick said

    Let’s see. 5,000,000 barrels, that works out to about 800,000 cubic meters. If we assume the oil spread over an area of 300 Km by 300 km by 2 Km deep, that is 1.8 * 10^11 cubic meters of water, so if evenly dispersed, that would represent 9 * 10^5 / 1.8 * 10^11 = 5 * 10^(-6) oil concentration…. yes that’s right, 5 PPM.

    Now, it’s not evenly dispersed of course, but neither is it even all there. Most of it evaporates when it floats on the surface. Only the non-volatile fraction (mostly heavy fractions and asphaltenes) doesn’t evaporate. And that fraction is much more dense than water(about 1.1 to 1.18 g/ml). As soon as the low density fraction evaporates, the rest just sinks to the bottom of the sea. So where did all that oil go? Mostly it evaporated. Some was eaten by bugs, some sits on the bottom of the ocean, and will be eaten by bugs, some was dispersed, and so is floating in very low concentration “plumes”… that will be eaten by bugs.

    Natural oil seeps in the gulf are comparable in volume EVERY YEAR.

    Catastrophe indeed.

    One of my business partners visited one of the “impacted beaches” in Florida in July. He looked closely, but could find no oil at all, save for a floating polyethylene water bottle cap that appeared to have a thin oil coating.

  7. PhilJourdan said

    Man plays and wars, while the Earth Abides.

  8. dougie said

    6- Steve Fitzpatrick

    this is what I don’t understand

    ‘petroleum’ is a word we use to describe a natural substance(I think MSM & varies others confuse people on this simple fact,dead life essentially) produced not by man, therefore can’t be evil in itself but as a geological result of this planets biospheres evolution + plate tectonics,heat etc…

    it’s always been there & always seeped into the sea/earth.
    why not harvest it?

    Life (meaning the whole is smarter than we think & men/woman are only one part, they need to learn how smart Life really is.

  9. hunter said

    A well placed highly experienced petroleum engineer I spoke with today is of the opinion that the microbes did not eat so much oil, but rather that the amount of leaked oil was vastly overstated.

  10. JAE said

    LOL, I actually predicted this one about a week after the “disaster!” My father owned a trucking company when I was young, before the “environmental awakening” of the 70’s. He always used the used oil from his trucks as a dust suppressant on the dirt/gravel parking areas around the shop. I noticed, a long time ago, that the dust was never really controlled much by the oil, because it kept disappearing rapidly. I now know that that was because the “bugs” were eating the oil about as fast as he deposited it. And now, I also use that same strategy to clean up oil spills!

  11. Brian H said

    Proteobacteria are yet another immense wedge of the biosphere about which we know little. In this case, our friends in low places!

  12. RuhRoh said

    The new look is breathtaking.
    I hope you can reestablish the ‘recent comments’ thingie so that activity on older threads is still visible. I’m still hoping to have DP tell me where’s the warming on Mars, for example.

  13. RuhRoh said

    Whoops, what happened?
    As Edward Everett Horton said on Rocky and Bullwinkle,

    Hair today, goon tomorrow…

  14. Jeff Id said

    Don’t worry the wordpress guys provide a basic look but don’t allow you to see what will happen if you choose options – unless you actually try them. I like a simple look but the fact that links here are nearly the same color as the text drives me nuts. It’s impossible though to find something better. I’d like this to be a science site despite my rants, and a science site can’t make use of cool black or noisy backgrounds. I can barely read as it is, throwing noise at the situation is terrible.

    I’ll keep looking, but am tired now.

  15. RuhRoh said

    I was trying to be positive about the change I glimpsed briefly, but the simple clarity here is much better than gratuitously jazzy visuals. I hate those sites with colored background, but I’m a low-viz guy.

    I’m usually on the ‘change’ side of the ‘change-statis’ axis, so this is not just a reflexive response for me.

    Looking forward to the day you cut loose with a fine analytical rant about the overselling of PV efficiency, and the sunk cost (in dirty coal-fired power) that is expended for the silicon. Is it still 5-7 years of the eventual output to get back to positive net energy? Reading your rants means I don’t have to do them myself…

  16. kuhnkat said


    like the earth, scientists claim Mars warmed based on the extent of the ice caps. Similar metrics for other bodies. Try searching the net instead of waiting for someone else.

    Heartland quotes a NASA report:

    Times quotes NASA:

    Newscientist tries to spin the observations with ifs and maybes:

    By the way, the Newscientist article tries to discount the increase in Solar output by claiming that it hasn’t gone up since 1978 while sticking with the idea of AGW which claims a small increase over time builds to a dangerous level. Why couldn’t a small Solar increase before 1978 have caused the changes over time?? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

  17. bob said

    I think the disappearance of the oil reflects a diversity solution, as everything in today’s society demands.

    As has been said, there was probably an over-estimation of the amount of oil in the first place. Then, there is the thing about the heavier components sinking to the ocean floor. Dispersing agents and hurricanes had a great deal to do with breaking up the oil plumes, thereby aiding the higherto unknown super-bugs to eat the stuff. Nice how it all fits together.

    OT – Jeff: If you want to change the color or behavior of any of the styling in WordPress, you can do it through the styles.css file. You don’t even have to hack the file, just create a new styles.css file and use it in a child’s theme.

    Here’s the link for you:

  18. bob said


    The link:

  19. Louis Hooffstetter said

    Thank God (or Gaia, or who ever) that the blowout of BP’s Macondo well did not turn out to be the environmental disaster we all initially believed it would be. There are several important lessons to be learned from this, but here is the one that stands out the most for me:

    While deep water drilling is dangerous, there was absolutely no excuse for this blowout. This spill was a direct result of BP’s conscious decision on at least three different occasions to sacrifice safety for money:

    First, BP ignored Halliburton’s recommendation to use 21 centralizers to keep the well pipe in the center of the well bore. Instead, to save time/money, they used only 6. This drastically reduced the ability of the cement job to properly seal the well and prevent gas from reaching the sea floor:

    Second, BP’s “Company Man” over-rode the drilling contractor’s (Transocean’s) recommendation to NOT remove heavy drilling mud from the riser pipe prematurely. One primary purpose of the drilling mud is to hold back gas pressure and prevent blowouts. The “Company Man” put his foot down and said “This is how it’s gonna be!”:

    Third, BP’s “Company Man” blew off Schlumberger’s recommendation to pump heavy drilling mud back down the well that was “kicking heavily” (i.e. trying to blow-out because so much drilling mud had been removed). Schlumberger was there to check Haliburton’s cement job (between the casing and the well-bore). When BP’s “Company Man” refused to circulate more mud, Schlumberger declined to work on the well, and called in their own helicopter to get the hell out of Dodge:

    Since the disaster, BP has been pointing fingers at Halliburton, Transocean, Schlumberger, and everyone else in an attempt to minimize their responsibility for these horrendous decisions. But in the end, BP needs to be held FULLY accountable, and their “Company Men” (Robert Kaluza and Don Vidrine) need to do some serious “Federal A** Packing” jail time:

  20. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: RuhRoh (Sep 10 01:36),

    If the ice caps on Mars shrink, the albedo gets lower and more sunlight is absorbed rather than reflected. It’s called feedback. Mars has Milankovitch cycles like Earth, only the magnitude is larger because there is no large moon to stabilize the axial tilt. A small change in the timing and magnitude of seasonal insolation at high latitude could cause changes in the Martian ice caps which could cause a significant swing in the planetary average temperature without an increase in TSI. After all, that’s the current explanation for the glacial/interglacial cycles on Earth.

    It is not correct to conclude that all other measures of TSI are wrong because Mars seems to be warming when there are other possible explanations.

  21. Brian H said

    Re: DeWitt Payne (Sep 13 02:10),
    AFAIK, concurrent similar effects have been observed deeper in space, on some of the outer planet moons and Pluto. But insolation (TSI) is a straw man, here. The solar wind variation is not a direct heating factor.

  22. RuhRoh said

    Mr. Dewitt Payne;

    Thanks for your answer, although I apparently didn’t phrase the question very artfully. I try again, recognizing that this is not the ideal thread for it. We were on a thread regarding CO2, but it is rather far down the pages .

    On another thread,

    you had derived a 5K ‘warming’,
    due to the thin martian CO2,
    by way of some apparently credible analysis.

    My question is, where am I looking to find that delta T?

    When I look at the ‘marsfacts’, NASA says the atmosphere is at the Blackbody temperature of 210K.

    Where’s the warmth?
    Thanks for your patience and continuing efforts.

  23. DeWitt Payne said

    Re: RuhRoh (Sep 13 13:18),

    The brightness temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere as observed from space is ~255K, the same as the black body temperature. This is required at steady state. The surface temperature is higher than that, ~288K because the surface sees solar radiation and radiation from the atmosphere. The same applies to Mars. The brightness temperature of the atmosphere on average is equal to the black body temperature and the surface is somewhat higher. It’s not easy to calculate a value for the greenhouse effect for Mars because the thin atmosphere and lack of liquid water make the heat capacity of the atmosphere and surface low. This causes a large diurnal and seasonal temperature range. In that respect, Mars is more like the Earth’s moon than the Earth. But the surface is a little warmer than it would be without an atmosphere. The estimate is about 5K.

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