Natural gas-gobbling bacteria may help combat oil leaks
By Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent
OSLO, April 28 (Reuters) - A type of bacteria that eats natural gases may provide a small defence against leaks such as BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and curb global warming, a scientific report said on Monday.
The study identified a strain of microbe able to grow on both methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and propane. Both are found in unrefined natural gas and scientists had previously thought that bacteria could only grow on one or the other.
In consuming both methane and propane the bacteria prevent the gases reaching the atmosphere, Britain's University of East Anglia said of the report written by two of its scientists in the journal Nature.
That means the microbes "could help mitigate the effects of the release of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere from both natural gas seeps in the environment and those arising from man-made activity such as fracking and oil spills," it said.
The versatile diet of the bacteria, methylocella silvestris, may mean a microbial ally in absorbing pollution and greenhouse gases that a U.N. panel of scientists says are extremely likely to be the main cause of global warming since 1950.
First found in northern Europe, the bacteria were also detected after BP's spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, the worst U.S. offshore disaster, the study said. The explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and spewed oil and gases into the Gulf of Mexico.