Bioremediation for Oil Spills

Oil-Eating Microbes

In oceans all over the world live microbes with a natural appetite for oil. Oil is constantly rising from vents in the ocean floor, not just as a result of oil spills, such as from oil wells and shipping, but in a natural process, and these microbes eat the oil up and release byproducts that are consumed by marine wildlife. Researchers collected microbes from all over the world and combined them in a powder form that will address almost all toxins from oil spills. This process is called bioremediation (def:   Using biological organisms or agents; such as fungi,  bacteria or plants; to remove or neutralize pollutants in soil or water or other parts of the environment.)

Testing Bioremediation of Oil Spills

The first test was carried out in Texas in 1989, with Dr. Carl Oppenheimer, the microbe developer, standing by. A large pool, similar to a wading pool, was set up, including some shrimp to represent the natural marine life of the sea. Then oil was spilled into the water. The microbe powder was spread on the water with a flour sifter. Within minutes, the oil began to disappear. The bio remediation research team could see the shrimp rising to the top to eat the byproducts released by the microbes as they consumed the oil. The microbes began to die off when their food supply was mostly gone. At the end of the test, the water was tested by Lower Colorado River experts and pronounced free of oil and non-toxic.

In 1989, the first open-ocean test was carried out on a burning oil freighter, combining the powdered microbes with water and then spraying the solution on the ocean with fire hoses. The cost was about one tenth of the cost of standard spill solutions. This test was spectacularly effective, and there was no evidence of any harmful side-effects.

Microbes Preserve Marsh Life

Just two weeks later, a barge spill threatened Galveston Bay. The existing oil remediation methods at the time had been booms, skimmers, absorbents, and dispersants, and none of these could be utilized without damaging the sensitive marsh area. Bio-remediation was used and was not only effective to clean up the spill, but left the life of the marshland healthy and thriving.

This video was released by the Texas General Land Office in 1991.

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