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Predicting the Microbial Bioremediation Response to Marine Oil Spills in Canada

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    Casey Hubert University of Calgary

Investigating the physiology and diversity of marine bacteria to deliver improved observation, prediction, and response to an accidental offshore spill in the Canadian marine environment.

This MEOPAR research project is investigating the physiology and diversity of marine bacteria to deliver improved observation, prediction, and response to an accidental offshore spill in the Canadian marine environment.

The research is hypothesis-driven and centered around two objectives:

  1. rates of biodegradation in the cold marine environment are primarily determined by the chemical nature of the spilled oil;
  2. the potential for biodegradation and microbial response time is determined by local microbial diversity and the presence of a ‘standing stock’ of oil-degrading bacteria, related to the proximity to natural oil and gas seeps in the seabed.

Oil spills represent a major risk and threat to Canada’s marine environment. The oil and gas industry is a major sector in the Canadian economy, with offshore production and exploration taking place off the east coast and in the Arctic.

In any oil spill scenario, marine bacteria are the likely ‘first responders’ to the scene of an accident, and start mitigating the damage caused by hazardous oil compounds. The ability of microbes to degrade hydrocarbons is well known and is an example of the ‘ecosystem services’ that microbial communities can potentially provide to Canadian society and the Canadian oil industry. 

This project has made very good progress in characterizing the potential for diesel fuel degradation in Arctic Ocean marine samples under aerobic and anaerobic conditions. Evidence for biodegradation under oxic conditions at cold 4°C in situ temperature has been obtained in sediment from Scott Inlet (NE Baffin Island), with genomics revealing enrichment of key microorganisms. Anaerobic response in marine sediment samples from the Cambridge Bay region was observed, which were much faster at anaerobic sulfate reduction in the presence of diesel than other samples. Additional locations from across the Arctic are also being tested with mock spills of crude oil and bunker fuel. The Arctic sample at Scott Inlet is in the vicinity of a hydrocarbon seep, and comparisons are being made with hydrocarbon seep sediment samples from southeast Asia and the Gulf of Mexico. Results were presented by MEOPeer and graduate student Amy Noël at the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem conference in Tampa FL in February 2016. 

MEOPeers:

  • Anirban Chakraborty University of Calgary
  • Amy Noel University of Calgary

This research will integrate microbiology with geochemistry to deliver results that can be used by end users in industry and government policy makers.