Microbes Shine New Light on Oil Sands

7 September 2009 (Last Updated September 7th, 2009 18:30)

Microbiologists in the UK have discovered a new technique that can be used in refining crude oil to eliminate pollution during oil extraction from tar sands. The research by the scientists revealed that acidic compounds that usually take up to a decade to break down can be neutralised a

Microbiologists in the UK have discovered a new technique that can be used in refining crude oil to eliminate pollution during oil extraction from tar sands.

The research by the scientists revealed that acidic compounds that usually take up to a decade to break down can be neutralised and degraded in days using a mixture of bacteria.

Microbiologist Richard Johnson told Reuters that his team used microbes to degrade a tiny consortium of compounds within the general toxic mix.

Oil producers are eager to exploit tar sand deposits, which contain some of the world's biggest oil supplies due to declining high-quality light crude supplies.

However a big quantity of poisonous by-products such as naphthenic acids are generated during oil extraction and refining processes. The naphthenic acids act as pollutants in the water used to extract tar and oil as they do not break down.

According to scientists, one billion cubic metres of polluted water are present in toxic lakes in Canada, where oil sands account for a big proportion of oil deposits.

These deposits are viewed as a vital secure power source for the US.