BP Deepwater Horizon Gulf spill

Satellite photo by NASA.
Sunlight illuminates the oil slick off the Mississippi Delta.

A natural “bioremediation” technique developed by biologists at an Israeli university may hold the key to the final, difficult steps of the billion dollar oil spill cleanup in the wake of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

Professors Eugene Rosenberg and Eliora Ron from Tel Aviv University (TAU) use naturally occurring oil-munching bacteria, grown at the TAU lab, to clean hard-to-reach oil pockets that are produced when oil mixes with sand and organic matter on beaches and forms a thin layer on precious waterways.

“It’s worked to clean up an oil spill on the coast of Haifa,” Ron reports, “so we’ve got evidence it could work in Florida, too.”

The scientists identified a naturally occurring variety of sea-borne bacteria that digests oil. Following decades of research, they developed a solution that could clean up the residual oil that can’t be removed by mechanical means.

Their solution addresses the small percentage of oil left behind that sits under rocks and forms a thin film on the water after the surface pools have been sucked up and the oil has been contained. Their bacterial solution can remove this residual oil and protect the sea’s wildlife.

“Even when cleanup crews reduce the amount of oil at sea, there will probably be enough left behind to kill birds and wildlife,” says Ron, adding that at this level of oil removal, the only solution is bioremediation – using nature itself to do the final cleanup.