Gulf Disaster

Oil Eating Bacteria Clearing Up the Gulf of Mexico?

Cool science: Microbes feasting on the sizable oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico could be hastening the cleanup of the slick, according to researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The oil-eating bacteria may have evolved among the natural petroleum seeps on the Gulf sea floor, the scientists say. Such findings, however, are at odds with other scientists and the U.S. government, who have painted different pictures of clean-up progress in the Gulf. U.S. officials contend that 75 percent of the oil had been skimmed, evaporated, safely burned, or dispersed, while an analysis from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution argues that the slick may linger underwater for months. The difficulty in reaching a consensus on how much oil remains is the result of varying research methods from team-to-team, with each group conducting its work in different areas of the Gulf. Said Ron Atlas, a microbiologist at the University of Louisville: "This is science on the fly."