Sunday, 27 February 2011

Field evaluations of marine oil spill bioremediation

P Swannell, K Lee and M McDonagh 
National Environmental Technology Centre, AEA Technology, Didcot, United Kingdom.
Bioremediation is defined as the act of adding or improving the availability of materials (e.g., nutrients, microorganisms, or oxygen) to contaminated environments to cause an acceleration of natural biodegradative processes. The results of field experiments and trials following actual spill incidents have been reviewed to evaluate the feasibility of this approach as a treatment for oil contamination in the marine environment. The ubiquity of oil-degrading microorganisms in the marine environment is well established, and research has demonstrated the capability of the indigenous microflora to degrade many components of petroleum shortly after exposure. Studies have identified numerous factors which affect the natural biodegradation rates of oil, such as the origin and concentration of oil, the availability of oil-degrading microorganisms, nutrient concentrations, oxygen levels, climatic conditions, and sediment characteristics. Bioremediation strategies based on the application offertilizers have been shown to stimulate the biodegradation rates of oil inaerobic intertidal sediments such as sand and cobble. The ratio of oil loading to nitrogen concentration within the interstitial water has been identified to be the principal controlling factor influencing the success of this bioremediation strategy. However, the need for the seeding of natural environments with hydrocarbon-degrading bacteria has not been clearly demonstrated under natural environmental conditions. It is suggested that bioremediation should now take its place among the many techniques available for the treatment of oil spills, although there is still a clear need to set operational limits for its use. On the basis of the available evidence, we have proposed preliminary operational guidelines for bioremediation on shoreline environments. 

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