Wall Street Journal: Scientists Say Microbes Consumed Gulf Oil

Posted on August 25, 2010

Last week there was a report that a subsurface hydrocarbon survey using an autonomous underwater vehicle and a ship-cabled sampler found a massive 22 mile long continuous plume of oil in the Gulf of Mexico at 1100 meters depth. The report said this oil plume had persisted for months without substantial biodegradation.

Now a Wall Street Journal story says several types of oil eating microbes at the bottom of the ocean are gobbling up most or all of the oil. This would be wonderful if it were true, but it contradicts last week's report.
They found that several species of oil-eating bacteria were thriving in the cold waters of the submerged plume, degrading the oil "faster than expected." And the evidence so far shows that oxygen consumption levels are low, with no sign of developing dead zones.
The WSJ article says Dr. Hazen and other microbiologists think the microbes ate the plume. The article says Dr. Hazen and the other microbiologists are "convinced that bacteria have already eliminated the hazard posed by the plume."

Dr. Hazen told the WSJ, "We no longer see any deep plumes that can be attributed to the leak."

There is either great confusion among scientists or the oil-eating microbes story is part of some clever disinformation campaign. There are also arguments that dispersants used by BP removed some of the oil, yet left a potentially toxic chemical in the water. Take a look: