Oil Spills

Dispersants suppressed oil degradation

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Science  04 Dec 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6265, pp. 1218-1219
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6265.1218-a

Airplane applying oil dispersant off the Louisiana coast


The 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout released hundreds of millions of liters of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. One of the main mitigation strategies to prevent oil from reaching the shore—and potentially to stimulate natural bacterial communities capable of degrading oil and gas—was the application of 7 million liters of chemical dispersant. At the time, little was known about the effect these dispersants might have on hydrocarbon biodegradation rates. In a series of laboratory experiments, Kleindienst et al. observed that the same dispersant used in 2010 actually suppresses the major hydrocarbon-degrading groups in favor of dispersant-degrading bacteria. This confounding effect of dispersants therefore may explain why field data collected during the spill showed lower than expected biodegradation of oil and gas.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1507380112 (2015).

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