Gulf bacteria digests gas, not oil

Imagine that. The initial story churned out of a BP-funded lab about oil-eating bacteria may have been misleading. Who could imagine BP might spin the truth?

Bacteria that attacked the plumes of oil and gas resulting from the Deepwater Horizon gusher in the Gulf of Mexico mainly digested natural gas spewing from the wellhead — propane, ethane and butane — rather than oil, according to a study published in the journal Science.

The paper doesn’t rule out the possibility that bacteria also are consuming oil from the spill, the authors said. Instead, it suggests that natural gas primed the growth of bacteria that may have gone on to digest “more complex hydrocarbons” — oil — as the spill aged and propane and ethane were depleted.

Still, lead author David L. Valentine, a professor of microbial geochemistry at UC Santa Barbara, said the findings temper hopes that microorganisms detected by scientists in the gulf have eaten up most of the oil there, as other scientists had recently suggested.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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