Oil Spill : Cleaning up the mess

Uploaded by oilwellinvesting on 08.06.2010

Most Texans remember these news photographs
of the Mega Borg burning out of control in the Gulf of Mexico
releasing 4.6 millions gallons of toxic crude oil.
What you may not remember is a smaller story
the first open sea application of oil-eating microbes
to help clean up the mess.
But that story may mark a turning point
in the history of how every future oil spill is handled
and how other environmental disasters are cleaned up
[music] "Bioremediation: The Texas Solution"
Microbes with a natural appetite for oil
live everywhere in the environment
They're nature's recycling units
capable of eating toxic oil
and digesting it into byproducts
which are then safely consumed by marine life.
Researchers have collected microbes from all over the world
and mixed them together in combinations
which will address nearly all toxins in oil pollution.
They're grown in a catalytic solution
to reproduce quickly
until trillions are available to be packaged
stored in a powder form
and applied when needed
to help clean up sensitive environmental areas.
Micro research attracted the attention of Texas Land Commission Gary Mauro
who for years had been the state's strongest proponent for clean beaches.
The Texas General Land Office funded a test of the microbes in the fall of 1989
to learn more about them.
Dr. Carl Oppenheimer >> "The test is designed
to show the efficiency of using a biological process
to remove oil from the environment
especially oil that is on the surface of the sea."
Dr. Carl Oppenheimer >> "It's a process that's been going on for many many years
and we have concentrated on increasing the activity
of the biological process."
First, oil was released into a controlled pond.
Next, microbes in a powder form were scattered over the top of the oil
with an ordinary flour sifter.
Within minutes, the oil slick began to disappear,
as the microbes did their work
releasing by-products which are safely edible by marine life.
Shrimp, which had been placed in the control tank,
began to rise to the top
and nibble on the microbe by-product
as it slowly sank to the bottom.
Once the oil had been consumed,
the microbes began to die off
due to lack of a food supply.
Dr. Carl Oppenheimer >> "Most of the hydrocarbon will be gone."
"If there's any residual we'll clean it up with paper towels."
"We don't expect to use many paper towels."
The microbe level in the ponds quickly returned to normal.
Water samples were taken for analysis
by lower Colorado River Authority experts
and later reported to be non-toxic and effective.
Then the Mega Borg loaded with 38 million gallons of crude oil caught fire.
For several days it burned out of control
in the open Gulf of Mexico.
Commissioner Mauro and the Land Office pushed for
and finally won the right to use this potential disaster
for the first open sea testing of the oil-eating microbes.
The powdered microbes are mixed with water
then applyed using standard fire fighting equipment.
Cost is about one tenth of the price of current spill response techniques.
Again, samples were taken and results measured.
Later in Houston, Commissioner Mauro and Texas Water Commissioner Buck Wynne
announced the results.
Commissioner Mauro >> "If you can believe yours eyes
we had a great success."
"And if you can believe the scientific results
of our small-scale application test,
we're on the verge of a major breakthrough."
"We have absolutely no evidence
that there are any harmful side-effects
from these microbes."
"It's time for us involved in oil spill response
to put bioremediation at the center
of our oil spill contingency plans."
Buck Wynne III >> "And when you look at the tools we presently have to work with-
booms, skimmers, dispersants and absorbants
bioremediation stands out above all of them."
Because these naturally occurring microorganisms appear to degrade
significant quantities of oil in a startingly short period of time
and because we have yet to identify any harmful side effects
from the products used,
I am persuaded that this technology can be developed and used
as a valuable weapon in our arsenal
to deal with future oil spills."
Little did the two officials know
that in about two weeks
they'd have to make good on their promise.
A barge, filled with heavy crude,
was struck by a ship and began leaking its contents into Galveston Bay.
This time it was not the open beaches that were threatened
but the sensitive marshes and breeding grounds
of many aquatic birds and other marine life.
As oil flowed into the marshy areas
cleanup was begun.
But workers quickly found standard skimmers,
booms and absorbant materials hardly worked at all.
And, just walking through the wetlands
can harm the grasses almost as much as the toxic oil.
Dispersants could not be used
because they also were toxic to both wildlife and plants.
Application of microbes was again authorized,
this time in marked zones,
so specific conclusions could be drawn about their effectiveness.
Microbes were sprayed with hoses from boats offshore
minimizing trampling of the marsh grasses.
Just six weeks later, the results were evident.
In areas where bioremediation was used
grasses flourished and the mudbanks had returned to normal.
Small living creatures returned to the area.
All signs of shoreline discoloration had disappeared.
In those areas left untreated,
marsh grass was brown and dead
and wildlife absent or endangered.
At a bioremediation symposium at Lamarre University,
Commissioner Mauro commented on the results.
Commissioner Mauro >> "I hope that today's symposium puts
all of Texas movers and receivers of shipped oil on notice,
that at least the General Land Office,
which manages the four million acres of submerged lands,
expects bioremediation to be part
of any oil spill contingency plan they have."
The Land Office has proposed the Texas Oil Spill Response Act of 1991
part of which provides,
a single state agency in charge of the state's response system,
state purchase of equipment,
location of equipment at regional response centers
and staffing by highly trained employees.
Regional response centers would provide oil spill response and coordination,
auditing industry plans,
conducting drills and maintaining equipment.
Written contingency plans for all carriers and handlers of oil and chemicals in Texas.
Increased support for research and development of new technologies.
This is one of Texas' brightest new technologies.
The proposed oil spill plan
would guarantee that research in microbe and oil spill technology
is on-going
with more monitored tests on oil spills.
The plan would also guarantee that bioremediation
is ready to be used whenever appropriate.
Commissioner Mauro >> "Just think how oil is transported,
where it's transported, and that's where we ought to have
bioremediation backup to deal with this oil spill problem."
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