ArcticNet - ArcticNet Research

Phase 4 (2015-2018)

The Potential for Natural Oil Spill Biodegradation by Microorganisms in Canada’s Arctic Marine Environment

Project Leader(s)

Hubert, Casey

Society’s appetite for energy, an increasing global population, and the lack of viable large scale renewable energy alternatives, means our reliance on petroleum will increase in the coming decades. Considerable oil reserves are estimated to exist in the Arctic and drilling for oil is poised to begin, with Canada’s National Energy Board approving offshore drilling in the Arctic in 2011. Declining Arctic sea ice cover is projected to soon result in a completely open Northwest Passage allowing regular shipping transport, making the Arctic region susceptible to accidental releases of different types of hydrocarbon pollution. The Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 brought into focus the risks of accidental hydrocarbon release in the marine environment, however, naturally present microbial communities acted as ‘first responders’ in catalyzing bioremediation and significant mitigation of certain negative impacts associated with the spill. The ability of microbes to degrade hydrocarbons is well known and is an example of the ecosystem services that microbial communities can potentially provide to Canadian society and Canadian industries that produce and transport hydrocarbons. To fully realize these benefits, the chemistry, physiology and ecology of the processes and environments involved need to be better understood. This project is structured around testable hypotheses about the marine microorganisms in the Canadian Arctic and their potential for the biodegradation of hydrocarbons. Contributes to IRIS: 1, 2, 3