The Deepwater Horizon (DWH) spill released ~5 million barrels of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). This is considered to be the greatest environmental disaster in the US; however, lasting environmental impacts were mitigated by substantial microbial petroleum biodegradation. Furthermore, petroleum biodegradation was faster than existing models (e.g., OSCAR) predicted, and the mechanism causing this has yet to be determined. It was hypothesized that bacteria adapted to the hypoxic ‘dead zone’ in the GoM may contribute to this effect. Following the DWH spill, BP conducted environmental surveys in six marine basins around the world in which it held leases for deep sea drilling. The purpose of the work reported here was to determine the potential for microbial petroleum biodegradation in those basins. Microbial communities across basins were similar in composition by depth. Petroleum degrading microbial taxa were present in all basins, but were most abundant in the West Atlantic Ocean. Microcosm experiments revealed that communities from deep waters of the Caspian Sea rapidly degraded petroleum with anoxic atmospheric headspace. The results of this work help us to make better predictions for petroleum biodegradation and develop methods for enhanced bioremediation in the event of another spill.

Primary Author / Conference Presenter:
John Miller
Graduate Student
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Knoxville, Tennessee, USA

John Miller; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Knoxville, TN
Stephen Techtmann; Michigan Technological University; Houghton, Michigan
Julian Fortney; Environmental Analyst at Torrent; San Francisco, CA
Nagissa Mahmoudi; McGill University; Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Dominique Joyner; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Knoxville, TN
Jiang Liu; University of Tennessee Knoxville; San Francisco, CA
Scott Olesen; OpenBiome; Boston, MA
Eric Alm; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Boston, MA
Adolfo Fernandez; Florida International University; University Park, FL
Piero Gardinali; Florida International University; University Park, FL
Nargiz GaraJayeva; BP; Baku, Azerbaijan
Faig S. Askerov; BP; Baku, Azerbaijan
Terry C. Hazen; University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Knoxville, TN