NEW ORLEANS (Commodity Online) : Finding of a new type of oil eating bacteria at the sites of recent Gulf of Mexico oil spill raised new hopes for environmentalists.
Scientists discovered the new microbe while studying the underwater dispersion of millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf following the explosion of BP's Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.
And the microbe works without significantly depleting oxygen in the water, researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory reported.
In a statement the Lab said the findings which provide the first data ever on microbial activity from a deepwater dispersed oil plume, suggest a great potential for bacteria to help dispose of oil plumes in the deep-sea.
Environmentalists have raised concerns about the giant oil spill and the underwater plume of dispersed oil, particularly its potential effects on sea life. A report just last week described a 22-mile long underwater mist of tiny oil droplets.
Before the spill the microbes in the deepest parts of the Gulf were not well known and there was little carbon present in the area of cool temperatures and high pressure.
Their findings are based on more than 200 samples collected from 17 deepwater sites between May 25 and June 2. They found that the dominant microbe in the oil plume is a new species, closely related to members of Oceanospirillales.
This microbe thrives in cold water, with temperatures in the deep recorded at 5 degrees Celsius (41 Fahrenheit).
The report suggested that the bacteria may have adapted over time due to periodic leaks and natural seeps of oil in the Gulf.
Scientists also had been concerned that oil-eating activity by microbes would consume large amounts of oxygen in the water, creating a dead zone dangerous to other life.
But the new study found that oxygen saturation outside the oil plume was 67 percent, while within the plume it was 59 percent.