The primary biodegradation of dispersed crude oil in the sea

Roger C Prince, Kelly M McFarlin, Josh D Butler, Eric J Febbo, Frank C Y Wang, Tim J Nedwed
Chemosphere 2013, 90 (2): 521-6
Dispersants are important tools for stimulating the biodegradation of large oil spills. They are essentially a bioremediation tool - aiming to stimulate the natural process of aerobic oil biodegradation by dispersing oil into micron-sized droplets that become so dilute in the water column that the natural levels of biologically available nitrogen, phosphorus and oxygen are sufficient for microbial growth. Many studies demonstrate the efficacy of dispersants in getting oil off the water surface. Here we show that biodegradation of dispersed oil is prompt and extensive when oil is present at the ppm levels expected from a successful application of dispersants - more than 80% of the hydrocarbons of lightly weathered Alaska North Slope crude oil were degraded in 60 d at 8 °C in unamended New Jersey (USA) seawater when the oil was present at 2.5 ppm by volume. The apparent halftime of the biodegradation of the hydrocarbons was 13.8 d in the absence of dispersant, and 11 d in the presence of Corexit 9500 - similar to rates extrapolated from the field in the Deepwater Horizon response.

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