Cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

Oil spillPhoto of oil spill of Gulf of Mexico taken 4 days ago by Astro_Soichi (

This is not the first time an accident resulting in oil spill in the sea has happened. Other disasters include: the Exxon Valdez disaster in the Alaskan shoreline of Prince Williams in 1989; the cargo oil spill of tanker Volgoneft-248, which ran aground in Turkey after structural failure and spilled tons of oil into the Marmara Sea, when it broke apart at the end of 1999; the oil tanker Prestige accident in November 2002, which produced heavy contamination off the coast of Galicia, Spain; and the Hebei Spirit oil spill which occurred in December 2007 in the Taean County, South Korea. Oil slicks must be cleaned up, as they pose severe threats to ecosystems affected by the crude oil pollution, but what are the options? Read on to find out.

Options for cleaning up crude oil in the sea and shores sand include dispersants and sorbents. Chemical-based dispersants, although effective, can be another (sometimes worse) source of pollution. Natural sorbents must be the best option and one sorbent, which has been suggested during the Exxon Valdez oil spill clean up, was hair. According to an article in Yahoo News, people in the Florida Gulf Coast, where some oil slick might end up, have started saving all their waste hair from hair salons and pet groomers and are sending them to warehouses, where the hair will be used in sorbent booms or mats to soak up the oil slick. Hair can absorb four to six times its weight in oil, which is not as good as industrial booms filled with synthetic microfibres, which can absorb up to 15 times their weight in oil, but are still a good natural alternative. Plant biomass (agricultural waste) has also been suggested as a good option as a natural sorbent.

Crude oil is a hydrocarbon and, therefore, the use of microorganisms which degrade hydrocarbons is another alternative. I searched the Cab Direct database using the terms hydrocarbons and biodegradation, which returned over 4000 records. From this search results, a recent paper by Zahed et al. (2010) examined the effect of initial oil concentration and dispersant Coreexit 9500 on crude oil biodegradation in contaminated seawater. Their results showed that the presence of dispersant enhanced crude oil biodegradation and that more effective degradation was obtained with lower concentrations of crude oil (67% for 100 mg/L, compared with 45% for 2000 mg/L). Based on their findings, they concluded that bioremediation is not recommended for crude oil concentrations of 2000 mg/L or higher.

I also searched the database for “clean up” and “oil spill” to find current research on other tested clean up methods and my search returned 29 records.

Husseien et al. (2009) examined the absorption capacity of barley straw for different petroleum products and water pick up. Their results showed the capacity of straw fibres to remove crude oil from the sea water was related to the size and amount of fibre and concentration and temperature of the crude oil. Additional sorption-desorption studies showed that a simple squeezing operation was enough to remove most of the soil sorbed, making reuse of the fibres feasible. This is a useful feature of the straw fibres for use in the sea, as it would save time.

Sayed et al. (2003) also showed oil spill pollution treatment by sorption on cheap, available, natural Cynanchum acutum plant. White silky hairs (WSH) was collected from the smooth seeds of C. acutum plant and used, before and after thermal and chemical treatment, to remove crude oil. The plant was treated mechanically by squeezing and then chemically by naphtha, a petroleum product, to remove sorbed crude oil from its surface for further reuse. WSH quickly absorbed hydrocarbons and encapsulated oil on contact, absorbing three times its weight on average. De-waxed WSH absorbed four times its weight, in the case of de-waxing with n-hexane and six times its weight in the case of de-waxing with methanol. Dehydrated WSH at 120°C absorbed seven times its weight. WSH absorbed 11 times its weight when it was used after soaking in 10-4
M dodecyl benzenesulfonic acid. WSH absorbed 20 times its weight when it was soaked in dodecylbenzenesulfonic acid and dehydrated at 120°C.

Another promising method is described in a paper (Saeki et al., 2009) by a Japanese research group which used a remediation agent (JE1058BS) that contains a biosurfactant produced by Gordonia sp., strain JE-1058. The biosurfactant showed potential as an oil spill dispersant even in the absence of a solvent and was also effective for the bioremediation of oil spills at sea. The addition of JE1058BS to seawater stimulated the degradation of weathered crude oil (ANS 521) via the activity of the indigenous marine bacteria. Its addition also stimulated the removal of crude oil from the surface of contaminated sea sand. Their results indicated that biosurfactants containing JE1058BS have a strong potential as a remediation agent for the clean-up of oil spills at sea and on shorelines.

Fertilizers were used in the summer of 1989 to accelerate bacterial growth in a bioremediation effort to clean up the beaches following the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Despite the limited data available, Lung et al. (1993) suggested it was clear that no significant increase in algal growth would be expected following fertilizer application.

From the above, a combination of treatments seems the best option to clean up oil spills. I think the initial approach used by BP, i.e. containing/collecting the spill for disposal, as shown in this Nature article, to avoid continuous movement of the crude was the right approach to start with, but this should be followed by absorption of the crude, which is already contaminating the sea, using plant biomass, such as barley straw and C. acuntum silky hairs, or indeed human hair booms, if these are more easily available. The clean up could then be enhanced by using biosurfactant, such as that produced by Gordonia, as an oil spill dispersant, followed by inoculation with indigenous marine microorganisms that degrade aromatic hydrocarbons. Coastal slurry and microbial mat samples were shown to be rich in pico-cyanobacteria, filamentous cyanobacteria and oil-utilizing bacteria. Al-Mailem et al. (2010) used slurry and mat samples directly as inocula for cleaning oily seawater in batch cultures. They showed that coastal slurry has the potential for self-cleaning of oily coasts without the need for nitrogen fertilization, and may be directly used as inocula for the bioremediation of oily liquid wastes. The combined potential of the slurry bacteria for hydrocarbon-utilization and nitrogen-fixation makes the consortia self-sufficient, as far as nitrogen requirement is concerned and the occurrence of phototrophic microorganisms also makes such consortia self-sufficient in terms of oxygen requirements.


Al-Mailem, D. M.; Sorkhoh, N. A.; Salamah, S.; Eliyas, M.; Radwan, S. S. (2010) Oil-bioremediation potential of Arabian Gulf mud flats rich in diazotrophic hydrocarbon-utilizing bacteria. International Biodeterioration & Biodegradation, 64, 3, pp 218-225.

Husseien, M.; Amer, A. A.; El-Maghraby, A.; Taha, N. A. (2009) Availability of barley straw application on oil spill clean up. International Journal of Environmental Science and Technology, 6, 1, pp 123-130, 30 ref.

Lung, W. S.; Martin, J. L.; McCutcheon, S. C. (1993) Eutrophication analysis of embayments in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Journal of Environmental Engineering (New York), 119, 5, pp 811-824, 12 ref.

Mohammad Ali Zahed; Hamidi Abdul Aziz; Mohamed Hasnain Isa; Leila Mohajeri (2010) Effect of initial oil concentration and dispersant on crude oil biodegradation in contaminated seawater. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 84, 4, pp 438-442.

Saeki, H.; Sasaki, M.; Komatsu, K.; Miura, A.; Matsuda, H. (2009) Oil
spill remediation by using the remediation agent JE1058BS that contains a
biosurfactant produced by Gordonia sp. strain JE-1058. Bioresource
, 100, 2, pp 572-577, 25 ref.

Sayed, S. A.; El-Sayed, A. S.; S., M.; Zayed, A. M. (2003) NCRP, Oil spill pollution treatment by sorption on natural Cynanchum Acutum L. plant. Journal of Applied Science & Environmental Management, 7, 2, pp 63-73, 32 ref.

17 thoughts on “Cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill?

  1. Pier Luigi Caffese May 11, 2010 / 3:03 pm

    I propose cyanobacteria petrol bioremediation 1.500 m via bioreactors pipe studied 1500 m.
    deep and a turbine pumped up biogas-biopetrol via cyanobacteria.
    The best Cyanobacteria to bioremediation petrol is sinecocistis(see Asu University or
    Arpa-E DOe-I propose algae reef or barrier composed algae-salicornia
    plant(see Nasa) and Omega Nasa bags
    long Mexico Gulf Coast.

  2. andrewsmith641 June 7, 2010 / 9:49 am

    Hello there is a great company called planetresource to fix the problem there is a frrat animation of correcting this

  3. Vera Barbosa June 7, 2010 / 10:38 am

    Thanks for that! Maybe you should also send it to BP.

  4. Carpet Cleaning Vancouver June 17, 2010 / 6:56 am

    Hi, I just found your blog via google. Your viewpoint is truly relevant to my life currently, and I’m really happy I discovered your website.
    This information is really good and I will say will always be helpful if we try it risk free. So if you can back it up. That will really help us all. And this might bring some good repute to you.Well I normally never comment on blogs but I agree. Thanks for shedding some light on this. I am going to check out the rest of this blog now!
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  5. azmi June 18, 2010 / 6:40 pm

    suggestion tools that used to clean up oil spillsspills in the water and land.

  6. Sam Turnbull July 17, 2010 / 7:29 am

    I have a solution for cleaning up miles of beaches. It is called a flipscreen. It fitts any bobcat loader or excavator. One of these machines can do the work of hundreds of volenteres.

  7. BP T-shirt August 16, 2010 / 6:06 am

    Wish it could be completely cleaned up every inch of it..

  8. Clermont cleaning service October 11, 2010 / 8:44 am

    Gulf of Mexico oil spill is now become a serious issue for world and according to me this is really a very serious problem. For last 10 years i have seen so many accidents. The main problem is associated with all the sea animals. I have seen the harmful effects of those problems. So the conclusion is, we have to think about this because it’s direct attack to our nature.

  9. Tess-carpet cleaner January 26, 2011 / 8:02 am

    That is one of the serious cases and terrible accidents that could happened in seas. Oil spill is a terrible sea pollutant and dispersing it is really hard though. As mentioned in the article, they need to used highly toxic solvents. Which means it can destroy the non-living and living things beneath.
    Hoping that there could be someone who can discover an alternative procedure on how to clean oil spill like using eco-friendly materials.

  10. plumbing supplies April 6, 2011 / 1:18 am

    Thousands of barrels of oil have been leaking into the Gulf of Mexico every day since the rig sank. The government should pressure BP to clean this mess up because this is a major threat to our ecosystem.

  11. Dyson Upright Animal Reviews May 5, 2011 / 8:12 pm

    I am wondering how many more accidents we will need to finally understand that the planet is too fragile and we can easily destroy it with our own hands. The latest events in Japan only proves that point. A disaster like the one described in this article or the one that happen in Japan proves that the humanity is too immature and can easily destroy itself.

  12. Claire Jhonson September 18, 2012 / 3:42 pm

    True, this is one accident in our seas that could cause the lives of the creatures in danger. Also, people living near the affected area would disturbed. Oil spill damages everything if not given action as soon as possible. It means ending up the livelihood of those who are depending on the sea to help with family’s meager income.

  13. Amy Downs November 14, 2012 / 1:52 am

    That is a very hard thing to do. The government must take the imperatives ti clean all these oil spills. It is very dangerous to the people living near the area and who are dependent on the area affected for their living.

  14. Steppe Shanahan April 29, 2013 / 2:36 pm

    Oil spill really damages the life in the seas. Irresponsible sailors must be accountable for any oil spill they make.

  15. Kohut Erb May 5, 2013 / 4:58 am

    Hope that the government has an immediate action on this. It would greatly affect to our ecosystem.

  16. Morency Newkirk May 7, 2013 / 3:06 am

    This oil spill may result to damage of the marine lives which sustain the the people living in that area. The people who are responsible for this oil spill should find ways to resolve the problem because they are liable for this.

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