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British scientists look to bacteria to clean tailings ponds

Reuters reports that, “British scientists have used microbes to break down toxins in crude oil and say the technique could be used in refining as well as to clear up pollutants left in vast Canadian lakes when oil is extracted from tar sands. Research published on Monday by microbiologists from the University of Essex showed that acidic compounds that can normally take up to 10 years to break down can be degraded and even neutralised in just days using a mixture of bacteria.”

“Tar sand deposits contain the world’s largest supply of oil… but the process of oil extraction and subsequent refining produces high concentrations of environmentally-threatening toxic by-products. The most toxic of these are a mixture of compounds known as naphthenic acids that do not break down but persist as pollutants in the water used to extract oil and tar. In Canada, for example, where oil sands represent the largest oil deposits outside the Middle East and are seen as an important source of secure energy for the United States, Johnson estimated that as much as one billion cubic metres of contaminated water lies in vast toxic lakes. Johnson …said the chemical structures of the naphthenic acids varied, with some proving more complex and harder to neutralise than others.”

“(This) research was (in) part funded by British oil consulting firm Oil Plus Ltd.”

Although somewhat different, on pages 76-79 of Blue Covenant Maude Barlow writes about nanotechnology. She notes that, “the big desalination and water purification and treatment companies have set up divisions to explore the latest technological superstar in the water business: water nanotechnology. In order to clean dirty water, company scientists are looking to the sub-microscopic world of nanoparticles to seek and destroy the sources of groundwater pollution with various forms of water nanotechnology such as nanomembranes and nanoporous zeolites (microporous crystalline solids). They are aided in their quest from extensive research largely funded by governments. …However, as in so many other cases of government-funded university research, it is the private water companies that are taking control of this technology as well as advantage of the funded research, sensing the enormous potential for profit. …Ever on the leading edge of coming technology, these (Suez, Veolia and GE) and other corporations are moving in to take control of the hottest new technology around.”

The Reuters article can be read at

We will have a fuller commentary and critique of this technology in the days to come.