Oil Disaster Solutions Sitting on the Sidelines?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 29 May 2010

From the oil-soaked booms ringing tiny islands of marsh grass to workers clad in bio-hazard suits shoveling bags of sand now contaminated with the gooey brown ooze of petroleum, it would appear that BP and the federal government are doing all they can to keep the millions of gallons of oil gushing from the sunken Deepwater Horizon oil rig from destroying the environment along America's Gulf Coast.

But are they? Not if you believe James Carville, Mike Papantonio, Rikki Ott, and Dr. Reese Halter, among others. Carville asserts that after cruising a hundred miles of Louisiana coastline, the environment is dying and there are no clean-up workers to be seen, despite the White House and EPA reassurances that an army of some 24,000 people are fighting the every-expanding blooms of oil.

We can only hope and pray that the techniques being used today -- which are the same ones that proved unsuccessful in the 1979 Ixtoc disaster in the Bay of Campeche -- will work this time. But even if BP can turn off the flow of oil and gas today, the damage has already been done. The residents along the Gulf Coast and eventually up the eastern seaboards are going to have to deal the consequences. Beach crews like those in the photo above could be working for months to remove the oil contaminated sand; and once they do, then what happens to it? Does it end up being trucked to some landfill site, dumped and then forgotten? Once polluted, can it ever be safe to use again?

And what about all that crude that has now started to infiltrate and kill the cane that makes up the biologically-critical marshlands of the Mississippi Delta? How will anybody be able to wade into those areas to remove the oil, and again, if they do can, what happens to it? Does it just end up contaminating some other area?

It very well could, but it doesn't have to. Here are two ways to bioremediate the problem without resorting to toxic dispersants.

Oyster Mushrooms

Yes, that's right. Oyster mushrooms. I heard about this one a couple years ago when Paul Stamet was on a radio talk show discussing his research on mushrooms. I was so intrigued I order two of his books, as well as a small starter kit of oyster mushroom spores that I tried to grow indoors one winter. They didn't survive, probably because I wasn't using oil contaminated soil.

Here's how Stamet, who holds a number of patents on the use of various mushroom spores for bioremediation and biomedical purposes, first demonstrated the effectiveness of Oyster mushrooms in treating petroleum saturated soil.

The first significant study showed that a strain of Oyster mushrooms could break down heavy oil. A trial project at a vehicle storage center controlled by the Washington State Dept. of Transportation (WSDOT) enlisted the techniques from several, competing bioremediation groups. The soil was blackened with oil and reeked of aromatic hydrocarbons. We inoculated one berm of soil approximately 8 feet x 30 feet x 3 feet high with mushroom spawn while other technicians employed a variety of methods, ranging from bacteria to chemical agents. After 4 weeks, the tarps were pulled back from each test pile. The first piles employing the other techniques were unremarkable. Then the tarp was pulled from our pile, and gasps of astonishment and laughter welled up from the observers. The hydrocarbon-laden pile was bursting with mushrooms! Oyster mushrooms up to 12 inches in diameter had formed across the pile. Analyses showed that more than 95% of many of the PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) were destroyed, reduced to non-toxic components, and the mushrooms were also free of any petroleum products.

After 8 weeks, the mushrooms had rotted away, and then came another startling revelation. As the mushrooms rotted, flies were attracted. (Sciarid, Phorid and other "fungus gnats" commonly seek out mushrooms, engorged themselves with spores, and spread the spores to other habitats). The flies became a magnet for other insects, which in turn brought in birds. Apparently the birds brought in seeds. Soon ours was an oasis, the only pile teeming with life! We think we have found what is called a "keystone" organism, one that facilitates, cascade of other biological processes that contribute to habitat remediation. Critics, who were in favor of using plants (as in "phytoremediation") and/or bacteria, reluctantly became de facto advocates of our process since the mushrooms opened the door for this natural sequencing.

Oyster Mushrooms have demonstrated bioremediation properties

Source: Helping the Ecosystem through Mushroom Cultivation
Cotton Waste

This one came to my attention just last week, when David Sereda sent me a video he shot using a one-pound sample of cotton fiber waste that almost magically sucked dirty motor oil off the surface of water floating in a plastic tub. I've asked to have a sample of the material sent to me so I can run the same experiment here in Omaha. You can watch David's video here and shortly listen to my interview with him earlier today. Gator International, Canadian company that makes this material -- and neither I nor David, to my knowledge, have any financial interest in this firm -- has some 8 million pounds of it ready to be deployed just as soon as the government or BP gives the word.

So far, both have been mute. Now I can understand this to a degree: both are being overwhelmed by the enormity of the problem. How can you expect anyone caught in the middle of this man-made maelstrom to have time sift through all the proposals, suggestions, recommendations and products being thrown at them, from common straw to human hair.

More frustrating is the fact that none of the environmental organizations that I contacted about the cotton waste fiber product have shown the slightest interest in this solution; and perhaps there's nothing they can do about it, either. The darker side of me also muses that maybe they don't want to see such a simple and elegant natural way employed to address the problem. Maybe, my paranoid self whispers, they want this disaster to continue to so besmirch BP and the larger oil industry, effectively coating their reputations with the same toxic substance now polluting the Gulf waters that the American people will pressure Congress and the President to pass legislation that will force us down a new, less fossil-fuel dependent pathway. My saner side says even our environmental organizations are likely overwhelmed by the magnitude of this disaster. It certainly is a godsend to both their efforts and ours here at EV World. What better way to effectively demonstrate the need to end our dependence on oil for our transportation system?

Whatever the reason, at least one of two environmentally-benign methods to bioremediate the aftermath of this disaster is sitting on the sidelines, waiting for someone to notice and give it a chance prove its effectiveness. I can't speak to Paul Stamets level of involvement in this crisis, but if someone at the EPA hasn't yet given him a call, then they need to do so, ASAP.

Imagine of the irony of a product called "gator" and a mushroom labeled "oyster" helping restore the human-caused damage to some of the world's richest waters.

ADDENDUM: Here is Paul Stamet's response to the oil pollution crisis in the Gulf.

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