As we know all too well, the worst environmental disaster in our nation’s history prompted a somewhat chaotic response to try and stem the oil flowing from the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Widely used in emergency responses to oil spills in marine environments as a means of stimulating microbial degradation of oil, chemical dispersants were applied in an unprecedented volume to the sea surface and deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill. Approximately, 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersants were applied to increase the use and breakdown of oil compounds by microorganisms. Unfortunately, studies have shown that such actions may not have been as effective as BP had hoped.
A study from marine scientists at the University of Georgia concluded the use of chemical dispersants meant to stimulate microbial crude oil degradation can, in some cases, inhibit the microorganisms that naturally degrade hydrocarbons. These findings are based on laboratory-simulated conditions that mimic Gulf of Mexico deep waters immediately following the oil spill. The team found that the presence of dispersants significantly altered the microbial composition of Gulf deep waters by promoting the growth of Colwellia, a group of microorganisms capable of dispersant degradation. When only oil was added to similar samples, however, the growth of natural hydrocarbon-degrading Marinobacter was stimulated.
The study’s lead author, Samantha Joye, University of Georgia Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences, had this to say:
These compelling results show the naturally occurring communities of oil-degrading microorganisms, especially Marinobacter, are quite proficient at degrading oil and that oil biodegradation was more efficient in the absence of chemical dispersants.
Study co-author Sara Kleindienst, junior group leader at the University of Tübingen in Germany, added her comments:
During the spill, Marinobacter were not abundant in deep-water plume samples, possibly as a consequence of dispersant applications. Whether natural hydrocarbon degraders were outcompeted by dispersant degraders or whether they were directly affected by dispersant-derived compounds needs to be resolved in future studies.
The full environmental impact of dispersants such as Corexit on the Gulf’s biodiversity has yet to be seen, but many are rightfully concerned about its effects. While the goal of the cleanup efforts was certainly to degrade and cleanup oil, many believed the ulterior motive was to simply sink the oil from the surface to prevent any unflattering images of the spill’s true impact. Studies such as this are needed to ensure that those tasked with the clean up do not cause more harm in the long run simply so a company can downplay the short-term harm it has caused by its misconduct.
Source: Science Newsline
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