The Disappearing Gulf Oil Plumes Redux

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Now what do we do about the starving bacteria?

Remember the rosy scenario report by the Obama administration that 75 percent of the oil from the BP oil blowout had disappeared. Then a week ago came a somber report in Science declaring that the crude was still lurking Jaws-like below the surface in giant greasy plumes. This report provoked some policymakers and environmentalists to denounce the Obama administration for making stuff up about dire environmental situation in the Gulf of Mexico.

Now comes another research report in Science that says that previously unknown bacteria just love dining on the plumes with the result that the plumes are now completely undectectable. As Science News reports:

In May, researchers began reporting that the massive jets of crude emanating from BP's damaged Deepwater Horizon well were creating deep, diffuse plumes of oil in the Gulf of Mexico. Since then, chemical oceanographers have been probing the plumes for indirect clues about how quickly native bacteria might be gobbling up the oil.

Microbial ecologist Terry Hazen of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California now thinks he has a surprising answer: very quickly.

He's part of a broad team of scientists from two Department of Energy national labs and two universities that has been collecting plume samples continually for months. In a paper posted online August 24 in Science, the team reports data from late May to early June showing that those deep-sea plumes enticed a hitherto unknown cold-water–adapted bacterium to rapidly chow down on the oil.

Indeed, Hazen says, those bugs have been so voracious that for one plume of oil his team had been following, "within the last three weeks we no longer detect a deep plume. At all." It went away approximately two weeks after the well was capped on July 15, he observes. Its oil "is completely undetectable."

Also, the unusual population of oil-digesting bacteria that had inhabited that plume — and that would ordinarily be expected to stay with it as it moved — remained behind in a vestigial microbial cloud. "Doesn't that suggest biodegradation?" he asks.

Before celebrating this triumph of Mother Nature over heedless humanity, Science News notes that a lot of scientists reject this finding as too good to be true. Whole article can be found here.

NEXT: Apology of the Day

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  1. “Now comes another research report in Science that says that previously unknown bacteria just love dining on the plumes with the result that the plumes are now completely undectectable. As Science News reports”

    Bullshit.

    “22-mile oil plume lurks deep below the Gulf of Mexico surface and could harm wildlife: study”

    http://www.nydailynews.com/new….._wild.html

    1. Total oil spilled: 200,000,000 gallons

      Total volume of one cubic mile of water: 1,000,000,000,000 gallons

      The well was 1 mile below the surface. If the oil was restricted just to the cubic mile of water above the well, it would average 200 parts per million on average. But it isn’t restricted to that cubic mile: it has spread many hundreds of miles away.

      In all these articles I haven’t seen a definition for what the oil density must be before it is part of a plume. These two articles could simply be using two different thresholds.

      Whatever the threshold, it is ridiculously low. Can one even smell 200 ppm (0.02%) of oil in water? Can one smell a thousandth of that once it has spread out 30 miles away?

      1. These two articles could simply be using two different thresholds.

        The more likely scenario is the environmentalists are simply lying.

      2. BP CEO Tony Hayward made the same point early on and was crucified in the media. Wholly inappropriate Exxon Valdez comparisons were being tossed around by an imbecile press, and a gullible public ate it up. Plus, the star of the show, the gushing well itself, live on the intertubes and cable-news screens, made for compelling viewing. The fact that huge amounts of oil have been naturally seeping into the gulf for eons went largely unreported.

  2. The Gobbler: That Daily News story is soooo last week!

  3. “”
    According to the scientists, the oil trapped in the plume is crystal clear and odorless.

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new…..z0xYqrzQFP

    I’ll take properties not associated with oil for $100.

    1. So, the oil in these mysterious plumes is indistinuishable from water?

      1. The water isn’t odorless.

        1. So the oil, which is crystal clear and odorless, is actually cleaner than the water?

        2. All water is odorless.

          1. No. Seawater is kind of stinky. I prefer the clear, odorless oil myself.

      2. According to the scientists, the oil trapped in the plume is crystal clear and odorless.

        “The water samples when we were right in the plume look like spring water,” Richard Camilli, the study’s chief author, said. “You certainly didn’t see any oil droplets and you certainly didn’t smell it.”

    2. crystal clear and odorless

      hmmm sounds like the oil is now CO2.

  4. I vaguely remember something about oil in the news. Didn’t it build a mosque or something?

    Also, Obama Declares Victory, Sort Of, Depending On How You Look At It, In Iraq.

    1. Oil declared a victory in Iraq a while ago.

  5. This is my favorite horrific disaster ever.

  6. Me, too. I expect the oil-eating bacteria to get gobbled up by plankton or whatever, which will get munched by shrimp, which will lead to a bumper shrimp harvest next year or the one after.

    1. Even so, BP will be paying billions out of their slush fund to shrimpers claiming huge losses for the next decade.

      1. This business strikes me as similar to the tobacco settlement. I suspect that various government bodies will benefit greatly.

        Not that BP shouldn’t be liable for its negligence. But it should be liable to those with a claim, not to the mob government(s).

        1. Hey! Thanks to the tobacco settlement, nobody has to pay for health care anymore!

  7. “Now comes another research report in Science that says that previously unknown bacteria just love dining on the plumes with the result that the plumes are now completely undectectable.”

    This is “unknown” is something rediscovered after every big oil spill when the disaster the newspapers were hoping for does not appear.

    Another news outlet said massive invisible plumes of oil were still deep beneath the surface.

  8. It looks like Bailey is now a certified alt-texter.

    1. Yes – well done, Ronald!

    2. How long has he been in the pocket of Big Alt-Text?

  9. Next week there should be mutant sharks attacking beachgoers ON THE BEACH caused by the oil spill, followed by a correction that is was actually a small perch that thought someone’s toe was a shrimp.

  10. those bugs have been so voracious that for one plume of oil his team had been following, “within the last three weeks we no longer detect a deep plume. At all.”

    What will they eat now?

    They’re out there. And they’re voracious.

    “I wouldn’t go in there, if I wuz you.”

  11. Wathc the Obama administration try to cultivate the bacteria.

  12. Nature finds a way.

  13. Too good to be true, or too good to fit into our preconceived worldview? Scientists, indeed.

    I think you are supposed to check the facts before you reject the hypothesis.

    Also, who doesn’t love sweet sweet delicious crude?

    1. There are oil-eating bacteria.

      Oil seeps are common in the Gulf, so these bacteria are present in the gulf.

      This was very light, sweet crude, hence easily biodegraded by oil-eating bacteria.

      I find it all very plausible. The only real question is:

      How fast?

  14. Where is MSNBC’s go-to “marine toxicologist with no ax to grind” Riki Ott? She was the leftist cable-news “it girl” during the “crisis.” Haven’t seen her lately…

    Paging Riki Ott…

    Riki Ott, the people want to know where the oil went…

    Paging Riki Ott…

    1. Looks like she has a blog:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/riki-ott/

      she describes herself as a “Exxon Valdez survivor”

      1. I describe her as a “leech looking for a tragedy to ride into a book-deal/tv show”.

      2. Aren’t we all Exxon Valdez survivors?

      3. Sounds like an unbiased source to me.

  15. Science News notes that a lot of scientists reject this finding as too good to be true.

    But are they still calling it the “worst environmental disaster in US history”?

    1. As a Floridian, I’m glad that they appear to be mostly wrong. I imagine there will be some longer term ill effects, but the end of the world appears to have been deferred yet again.

      1. I imagine there will be some longer term ill effects

        Actual ill effects or made up ones that sound really scary designed to push some idiotic environmental policy?

        Hell they don’t even need fake ones…they just hint that they “imagine” it will have long term “effects”.

        1. Both. Probably will rock some portion of the ecosystem–depriving me of Apalachicola oysters for a time, perhaps–and will be used to justify all sorts of transfers of cash, socializing of industries, new regulations, and new taxes. And it will be used to rough up Obama like Katrina is used to rough up Bush, like either of them had a damned thing to do with the underlying event.

          1. Katrina was Bush’s fault! Bush used HARP to create the hurricane, explosives were placed to blow the levy and the Mayor was drugged into a zombie state in his hotel room.

            I know this because an alien from a UFO told me so.

    2. Any chance that these greenhouse gas emitting oil-eating bacteria have become the single largest contributor to global warming this year? Obama should slap BP with another fine just for the fun of it.

      1. Any chance that these greenhouse gas emitting oil-eating bacteria have become the single largest contributor to global warming this year?

        Not much of a chance. Most of the carbon would have entered the food chain or dissolved in the sea water.

        You should look up how much CO2 the oceans soak up each year.

        Some will enter the atmosphere but not much.

    3. But are they still calling it the “worst environmental disaster in US history”?

      Perhaps if “environmental disaster” means “disaster in which no one actually, you know, dies”. The initial well explosion, after all, was not an environmental disaster, but an industrial one.

      My money for worst environmental disaster in US history is still on the Great Johnstown Water Spill of 1889. 2200 dead people. 0 dead pelicans.

      1. Personally, I prefer The Great Boston Molasses Flood of 1919…

      2. I think that when people say “environmental disaster” they are speaking specifically of disasters that affect the environment primarily, but that do not kill a lot of people.

        1. So, in other words, it’s a disaster that warrants less attention than, say, a bus crash.

          Got it.

  16. The microbes save the day!

    This disaster has been more anti-climactic than War of the Worlds.

  17. a vestigial microbial cloud

    Bacteria corpse bloom?

    1. This George Washington:

      http://www.zerohedge.com/artic…..ter-plumes

      1. BTW, the Hazen study was funded, in part, by BP.

        The research was supported by an existing grant with the Energy Biosciences Institute, a partnership led by the University of California, Berkeley and the University of Illinois that is funded by a $500 million, 10-year grant from BP. Other support came from the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of Oklahoma Research Foundation.

        1. Ah, then it CANT be true!

  18. I’m just glad I can stop feeling a little guilty when I dump my used motor oil down the storm drain.

    1. To be fair, used motor oil is way dirtier than the natural stuff that naturally seeps from the natural earth anyway.

      Also, the cancer results in laboratory animals come from used motor oil, not new motor oil.

      1. That’s why I use water based lubes…

      2. Who would use NEW motor oil on lab animals, that would be just a waste.

  19. The microbes didn’t deplete the water’s oxygen stores quickly, as might have been expected. Evidence of their prodigious activity was measured in a depression of nitrates in the water, Hazen says, and a continuous loss of straight-chain oil hydrocarbons known as alkanes ? first the shorter ones and then the longer hydrocarbons. Also among the bugs was a floc of wastes from the petroleum dining

    This is interesting. It implies an anaerobic pathway for oil digestion. Which also implies that the microbe evolved in an anaerobic environment….which is not the ocean. very likely that the microbe came up with the oil.

    Also this is interesting “depression of nitrates in the water”. Nitrates in the gulf from agricultural run off have been linking to oxygen deprived dead zones in the gulf. The oil could actually be helping the gulf by consuming excess nitrates.

    1. Below a certain depth the ocean is anaerobic. They could be faculative aerobes.

  20. But think what will happen when the oil runs out! All those microbes will die! It’s an environmental calamity!

  21. So, the oil in these mysterious plumes is indistinuishable from water?

  22. Also, the cancer results in laboratory animals come from used motor oil, not new motor oil.

  23. You should look up how much CO2 the oceans soak up each year.

    1. Wait…am i being trolled or is this spam?

      Both?

  24. What will be even more interesting will be the complete repudiation of the microbe theory once a spill occurs with a Republican in the White House.

  25. It was Sharktopus.

    Sharktopus ate the oil.

  26. Gotta love how a major environmental disaster, brought to us by a PRIVATE i.e. non-governmental entity, is somehow being blamed on the Obama admin.

    1. Much in the same way that a naturally occurring major environmental disaster (Katrina), which was completely immune from government regulation, was blamed on the Bush admin.

      Before you shit through your panties, know that I’m a fan of consistency, not Bush.

    2. The rig explosion and spill itself weren’t Obama’s fault, but he most certainly deserves all of the blame for using the crisis as an opportunity to try to illegally kill all the offshore drilling jobs in the region.

  27. I have not seen any coverage of this by the NYT, therefore it can’t be true.

    🙂

    No, really. When many people were moaning and pulling their hair out about how this was The End Times and Mother Nature will finally kill us all for our Evil Corporate Despoilation, I was like, “Hey does anyone remember what happened to all those *other* oil spills in history? They went away, like fairly quick-like.” They would just point at me as a shill for Evil Corporatism and the Right and I am also evil because I criticize organic, and nothing I say matters anyway because I’m not worried about the pain of the *biosphere*.

    I think people will go back to worrying about Global Warming now. Particularly Pakistanis, who’ve decided their terrible flooding is not the fault of, you know, having NO flood-management infrastructure (they spent all their money on terrorism and cricket)… no, its Global Warming caused by…. THE JEWS who run America… seriously. There’s some guy at FP who suddenly decided the flooding was part of a Western Plot. No joke.

    Why is Environmentalism so essentially Manichean/Malthusian? Nature is Always Right (ignore smallpox!), and Humans are Perpetually Causing The World To End…

    Anyway, big ups to the bacteria. You guys are the best when you’re not causing diseases!

    1. Why is Environmentalism so essentially Manichean/Malthusian?

      Because it’s a movement usurped by scammers.

      1. How can I get people to buy more of my cars? Advertising hasn’t work… slashing prices hasn’t worked… I can’t cut reliability as consumers will go over to the competition…

        I know! Let’s ban older models… hmm… how can I do that… I know! Let’s say that the exhaust destroys the ozone layer… hmm… that was CFCs… how about we say that the exhaust causes the planet to get hotter! No one likes a really hot day.

        Now about used cars… what can I do to stop people from buying used cars instead of new cars…

        1. I’ll play. How about we give people cash to destroy their old cars?

  28. Yes but it is fun debating them. Check out this 11 second video of a debate with Henry Waxman.

    http://tinyurl.com/34vazd

  29. Didn’t the Kuwaitis use these hungry hungry bacteria when Saddam purposely created an oil disaster several orders of magnitude worse than the BP spill?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K…..tal_impact

  30. http://www.burberryscarveshop.com/
    here are lots of nice quality burberry scarves at a discount price for you.

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