A small suggestion for the bods at BP

OK, so the Gulf oil spill didn\’t in fact cause gross or long lasting environmental devastation.


NOAA explained one reason for this in a report in August: “It is well known that bacteria that break down the dispersed and weathered surface oil are abundant in the Gulf of Mexico in large part because of the warm water, the favorable nutrient and oxygen levels, and the fact that oil regularly enters the Gulf of Mexico through natural seeps.” In other words, the organisms that normally live off the Gulf’s large natural seepage of oil into the water multiplied extremely rapidly and went on a feeding frenzy.

Hmm. OK, but why are other oil spills rather more damaging?

By contrast, the Exxon Valdez spill immediately spread over the surface of the ocean, where many birds and other creatures came into contact with it. Prince William Sound, where the spill began, is an enclosed body of water, and the spilled oil—some of it in the most toxic forms—quickly reached the shore. In addition, the sound has no significant natural oil seepage and so lacks the associated oil-eating organisms.

Which leads to the small suggestion.

If I were BP (or indeed any other company working on sea based drilling) then right about now I\’d be sending out marine biologists to capture me some of those oil eating bugs. And I\’d be working real hard to get them breeding in captivity, looking at how in response to a spill I might send over a tanker or two of them to release bug laden seawater into the spill. And I might be doing a bit of genetic modifcation (actually, with bacteria, probably not needed, should be possible to evolve through breeding fast enough) to make sure that those bugs eat oil when it\’s cold too.

And if I were someone with the ear of a large venture capital fund I\’d be shaking them down for a few tens of millions to investiage this as something to sell to the oil companies.

Sadly, I\’m neither an oil company nor do I know any VC peeps….

10 thoughts on “A small suggestion for the bods at BP”

  1. This isn’t a new idea. In fact, I knew a research scientist in the early ’90s looking exactly at this topic.

  2. organisms that normally live off the Gulf’s large natural seepage of oil into the water multiplied extremely rapidly and went on a feeding frenzy

    These organisms appear to be mimicking the behaviour of governments.

  3. Perhaps, TN, he should go into the waste disposal business – Worstsoil. Or his beloved photovoltaics – Worstsol. Or condiments – Worstsalt. Or……

  4. Now the solar one I like.. When’s the IPO?

    Tim adds: Very sadfly, I don’t think we’ll be going imto the solar business. Well, actually, maybe, we might. If we can swing this access to EU funds for interesting ways to extract weird metals, we might well end up looking at ways to get Ga and Ge from coal. And those would be the building blocks of multi-junction solar cells, with demonstrated already 40% conversion efficiency.

  5. Water temperature makes a huge difference in the ablility of bacteria to work. The gulf is warm enough for this to occur, Alaskan waters are simply too cold for any significant impact.

  6. ….These organisms appear to be mimicking the behaviour of governments……

    I always thought governments were basically microbes.

  7. Another problem: the eutrophication this is causing in the bacteria is leading to anoxia in the water, which kills everything else.

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