Bacteria Helped Remove Spilled Oil in Gulf

In this undated image provide by the journal Science, microbes degrade oil, indicated by the circle of dashes, in the deepwater plume from the BP oil spill in the Gulf, as documented in a study by Berkeley Lab researchers. The newly discovered type of oil-eating microbe, which is suddenly flourishing in the Gulf of Mexico, was discovered by scientists studying the underwater dispersion of millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf following the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. (AP Photo/Science/AAAS) NO SALES. AP Photo/Science/AAAS

A sudden bloom of bacteria after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill helped clean up the methane gas that was also released into the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new report.

"They did a good job on it and that was much earlier than expected," said John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer at Texas A&M University.

Earlier studies found that the oil-eating bacteria got a jump start by consuming the natural gases ethane and propane. A new report by Kessler and colleagues in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science adds methane to that list, potentially good news for environmentalists concerned about periodic natural methane releases.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

Occasionally large volumes of methane are released along the sea floor through seeps or vents.

The discovery that bacteria rose to the occasion during the Gulf oil spill indicates they are also likely to do so when natural methane releases occur, researchers said.

Large releases of methane can disrupt ocean chemistry and also can affect the atmosphere.
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