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C. New Ways to Clean Up Oil

Narrator: There's more than one way to skin an oil spill. This is Science Today. Right now, there aren't that many ways to deal with an oil spill at sea. Chemist Ron Tjeerdema of the University of California, Santa Cruz says that new methods are being developed. One is a chemical that turns floating oil into a plastic film that can be lifted off the water. But it only works in smooth seas.

Tjeerdema: Very rough seas can make it very difficult to lift Saran Wrap off the water. The other way is a process called bioremediation, and that's a process by which we use microbes, usually bacteria, to degrade hydrocarbons.

Narrator: But that's not as easy as it sounds -- you have to find bacteria that can eat oil and survive the open ocean.

Tjeerdema: And we're probably looking at a whole bank of bacteria for any one oil, because of the fact that oil is a mixture of so many different organic compounds that no one species of bacterium is likely to be able to chew up and degrade all of them.

Narrator: Tjeerdema says that ideally, the bacteria will break oil down to carbon dioxide and water.

Tjeerdema: On the other hand, CO2 is part of the greenhouse effect, right? So you can never get away from it entirely.

Narrator: For Science Today, I'm Steve Tokar.