Bacteria Ate Methane from Gulf Oil Spill

Bacteria consumed methane gas from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in four months, a report said Thursday.

Methane constituted 20 percent of the crude oil that erupted from the Macondo oil well in worst marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry.


A report published Thursday in the journal Science said a sudden bloom of bacteria ingested the methane completely by early September.

“They did a good job on it and that was much earlier than expected,” said John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer at Texas A&M University, according to AP.

University of California Santa Barbara geochemistry professor David Valentine, one of the study’s lead authors, said the discovery proves that the bacteria play a vital role in preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases on the ocean’s floor from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“They do serve an important function, and as we see here under certain conditions these bacteria can be very effective at preventing the methane from reaching the atmosphere,” Valentine told AFP.

Valentine added that previous research showed that other types of bacteria also ingested the ethane and propane released by the explosion.

The researchers also said bacteria consumed some of the crude oil itself, but it is not yet clear how much.


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