Scientists: Bacteria Consuming BP Oil Government scientists say they are seeing a zone in the Gulf of Mexico that has below-normal levels of oxygen. That indicates bacteria in the area are consuming some of the oil that spewed from BP's well.
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Scientists: Bacteria Consuming BP Oil

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Scientists: Bacteria Consuming BP Oil

Scientists: Bacteria Consuming BP Oil

Scientists: Bacteria Consuming BP Oil

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Government scientists say they are seeing a zone in the Gulf of Mexico that has below-normal levels of oxygen. That indicates bacteria in the area are consuming some of the oil that spewed from BP's well.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

Plugging BP's well in the Gulf of Mexico was difficult enough, now come the challenges of the spill's aftermath, such as, how do we measure the health of waters in the Gulf now? And who pays for research to assist the impact on wildlife?

BLOCK: And Richard, there have been confusing, sometimes contradictory reports over the last month about the oil. We heard federal government officials saying that the oil is mostly gone from the gulf. How did these latest findings fit in with that?

RICHARD HARRIS: And so if you see less oxygen in the water, that means the bacteria are out there eating oil. And that seems to be exactly what they're seeing. A 20 percent decrease in the amount of oxygen out there is an indication that the bacteria have plenty of oil to eat, and they are eating it.

BLOCK: So oxygen levels down, but not to the point where this would be considered a dead zone?

HARRIS: However, that said, the broader ecological implications of this aren't really clear yet. Oil, after all, is poisonous, and there's some out there. It may have killed a lot of fish larvae during the time that it was out there. And so there could be some damage that we just won't see for a couple of years until that whole crop of fish that should've appeared doesn't appear. Then we'll know, you know, more about the ecological impact.

BLOCK: Now, the BP well stopped gushing oil back in mid-July. There was news over the weekend from the well site itself. Tell us about that.

HARRIS: But it's not the final word. BP still needs to do something more to - just to be sure that they are not going to have any oil ever come out of this well. They're talking about pouring more cement down the relief well that's drilled and very nearly connected to the old well, and federal law also requires that there needs to be a second cement cap near the top of the well before BP can actually step back and abandon the site altogether. And we may see more activity on these fronts later this week.

BLOCK: Okay. NPR's Richard Harris, thanks much.

HARRIS: My pleasure.

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