At least 200,000 tons of oil and gas from Deepwater Horizon spill consumed by gulf bacteria

Sep 11, 2012
Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Credit: NASA

Researchers from the University of Rochester and Texas A&M University have found that, over a period of five months following the disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill, naturally-occurring bacteria that exist in the Gulf of Mexico consumed and removed at least 200,000 tons of oil and natural gas that spewed into the deep Gulf from the ruptured well head.

The researchers analyzed an extensive data set to determine not only how much oil and gas was eaten by , but also how the characteristics of this feast changed with time.

"A significant amount of the oil and gas that was released was retained within the ocean water more than one-half mile below the sea surface. It appears that the hydrocarbon-eating bacteria did a good job of removing the majority of the material that was retained in these layers," said co-author John Kessler of the University of Rochester.

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The results published this week in Environmental Science and Technology include the first measurements of how the rate at which the bacteria ate the oil and gas changed as this disaster progressed, information that is fundamental to understanding both this spill and predicting the behavior of future spills.

Kessler noted: "Interestingly, the oil and gas consumption rate was correlated with the addition of dispersants at the wellhead. While there is still much to learn about the appropriateness of using dispersants in a natural ecosystem, our results suggest it made the released hydrocarbons more available to the native Gulf of Mexico microorganisms. "

Their measurements show that the consumption of the oil and gas by bacteria in the deep Gulf had stopped by September 2010, five months after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. "It is unclear if this indicates that this great feast was over by this time or if the microorganisms were simply taking a break before they start on dessert and coffee" said Kessler. "Our results suggest that some (about 40%) of the released hydrocarbons that once populated these layers still remained in the Gulf post September 2010, so food was available for the feast to continue at some later time. But the location of those substances and whether they were biochemically transformed is unknown."

Previous studies of the Deepwater Horizon spill had shown that the oil and gas were trapped in underwater layers, or "plumes", and that the bacteria had begun consuming the oil and gas. By using a more extensive data set, the researchers were able to measure just how many tons of hydrocarbons released from the spill had been removed in the deep Gulf waters. The team's research suggests that the majority of what once composed these large underwater plumes of oil and gas was eaten by the bacteria.

Professor John Kessler, recently appointed as Associate Professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Rochester, worked with graduate research assistant Mengran Du at Texas A&M University to analyze over 1300 profiles of oxygen dissolved in the Gulf of Mexico water spanning a period of four months and covering nearly 30,000 square miles.

The researchers calculated how many tons of oil and gas had been consumed and at what rate by first measuring how much oxygen had been removed from the ocean. Mengran Du explained that "when bacteria consume oil and gas, they use up oxygen and release carbon dioxide, just as humans do when we breathe. When bacteria die and decompose, that uses up still more oxygen. Both these processes remove oxygen from the water." Du added that it is this lower oxygen level that the researchers could measure and use as an indicator of how much oil and gas had been removed by microorganisms and at what rate.

Explore further: Research could help save billions of dollars as sea levels rise

More information: pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/es301363k

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User comments : 44

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Eric_B
2.3 / 5 (18) Sep 11, 2012
great job selling the public on the acceptability of the next spill!!!

so the little bugs turned the poisonous evil oil and stinky hydrocarbons into fish food and clamshells, yea!

gobble it up, happy consumers! BigOil is your friend (and University of Rochester and Texas A&M University's VERY GENEROUS friend, too!)
ryggesogn2
3.3 / 5 (21) Sep 11, 2012
Crude oil has been leaking into the oceans for quite some time, long before anyone drilled for it. What a surprise bacteria evolved to eat it.
fredcobio
3.5 / 5 (17) Sep 11, 2012
Eric, "Mother Earth" produced the oil through natural processes and She knows how to deal with it. Humans are an insignificant result of natural processes. We will some day be consumed and returned to the soil ourselves. Even Kevin Costner's magical centrifugal fleet is no match for her power and mercy.
Psiotic
2.1 / 5 (11) Sep 11, 2012
Snake oil salesman
Corrosion Protection
3.1 / 5 (7) Sep 11, 2012
That's good that much of the oil and gas has been removed by microorganisms but I would like to know what effects do these bacteria have on the rest of the ecosytem.
Than Nguyen
protectivepackaging.net/oil-and-gas-industry
spill
1.9 / 5 (13) Sep 11, 2012
OMG! UoR and Texas A&M, how much money did BP gave to your school?
Bowler_4007
2.1 / 5 (11) Sep 11, 2012
That's good that much of the oil and gas has been removed by microorganisms but I would like to know what effects do these bacteria have on the rest of the ecosytem.
Than Nguyen
protectivepackaging.net/oil-and-gas-industry

whatever effect they have i'm sure they're part of the natural balance of things, because we didn't put them there
NotParker
2.1 / 5 (14) Sep 11, 2012
BigOil is your friend


You, of course, never consume oil, or oil products or products produced with the help of oil or products transported by oil.
HealingMindN
3 / 5 (6) Sep 11, 2012
OK, that's great. Now, let's talk about corexit and BP using the Gulf as its personal shiyte hole: http://www.natura...es.html. Let's talk about all the damages from corexit. Is there bacteria for corexit too? I don't think so.
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (9) Sep 11, 2012
No, what you're seeing here is a conveniently timed little bit of propaganda for BP to point at and say "look, the nice little bacteria ate up all the nasty oil!".

Pure and simple.

Nobody has any conclusive evidence that oil-eating bacteria in the Gulf or anywhere else consumed 200,000 tons of hydrocarbons, much less in five months.

Further, you will note that no mention is made of the byproducts of this miraculous consumption -apparently these complex, heavy metal and sulphur laden hydrocarbons were just converted to CO2 and fairy dust like a kid eating a spoonful of sugar!

Clearly, we are expected to believe that all is well, and no harm done.

What we are expected to not understand is that there are other mechanisms that more likely "consumed" that mess of crude, clathrate, methane, and corexit, while still using up much of the available O2 in the area -and elsewhere, too.

I recommend that you also take the time to look up what "crude" is typically composed of, too.

Howhot
2.9 / 5 (7) Sep 11, 2012
Further, you will note that no mention is made of the byproducts of this miraculous consumption -apparently these complex, heavy metal and sulphur laden hydrocarbons were just converted to CO2 and fairy dust like a kid eating a spoonful of sugar!


GREAT CALL! That is exactly what I thought too!. Ignoring the many bias opinions I read, my first thought was, so when these bacteria die, what happens to all of the nasty toxins? Where do they go? Up the food chain was all I could think.

I mean; Look Ma. You don't need oil to fry gulf shrimp! They provide their own!


Deathclock
3.3 / 5 (10) Sep 11, 2012
Oil naturally leaks into the oceans all the time... there are massive deposits of it just below the bottom. Earthquakes or uplift due to volcanic hot spots can expose these deposits to the ocean water directly. This has happened for millions and millions of years.

According to this 62 MILLION gallons of oil seep into the ocean naturally every year.

http://seawifs.gs...ion.html
Deathclock
3.1 / 5 (9) Sep 11, 2012
Also this:
http://www.livesc...sea.html

"Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara where 20 to 25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years."
NotParker
1.9 / 5 (9) Sep 11, 2012
"Every ocean we look at, from the Antarctic to the Arctic, there are oil-degrading bacteria,"

"Just like your automobile, these marine-dwelling bacteria and fungi use the hydrocarbons as fuel—and emit the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result. In essence, the microbes break down the ring structures of the hydrocarbons in seaborne oil using enzymes and oxygen in the seawater. "

http://www.scient...l-spills

I wonder about Caliban and Howhot ... what do they think hydrocarbons are made of?

defactoseven
3.8 / 5 (5) Sep 11, 2012
Hmmm.. So what's all that black tar oily crud that washed up on the Louisiana shore after Hurricane Isaac? I guess that wasn't part of the 200,000 tons of hydrocarbons they are talking about. Maybe it's from natural causes.
Caliban
3 / 5 (4) Sep 11, 2012
Also this:

"Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara where 20 to 25 tons of oil have leaked from the seafloor each day for the last several hundred thousand years."


DC,

I'm not going to accuse you of deliberately providing citations for rosy, sunshine-bright takes on fact, and I'll only just direct your attention to this wiki article on the Coal Oil Point hydrocarbon seeps --which differs substantially regarding the facts reported.

I don't disagree that a great deal of hydrocarbons are naturally released into the environment every day, but I will point out that they are not benign, and while the estimates vary, the supposed "best estimate" of annual leakage globally is only 14Mbbl/yr(from more recent sources), so the amount these researchers claimed was consumed in just five months following the DH blowout represents about 10% of the GLOBAL annual total --and that amount, itself, is only a fraction of the total DH spill.
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 11, 2012
The promised wiki article:

http://en.wikiped...ep_field

About annual total global seep and relation to DH blowout:

http://www.theoil...ode/6576
Deathclock
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 12, 2012
About annual total global seep and relation to DH blowout:

http://www.theoil...ode/6576


Wait, never mind... after reading those links you gave I realized they do nothing to detract from my point... if anything your sources compliment my point.
mountain_team_guy
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 12, 2012
Ewww. Eco blasphemy slipped through again. Never fear, minds were made up long ago and nothing will change that.
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 12, 2012
About annual total global seep and relation to DH blowout:

http://www.theoil...ode/6576


Wait, never mind... after reading those links you gave I realized they do nothing to detract from my point... if anything your sources compliment my point.


DC,

I'm not sure what you are reading, or through what crazy-colored glasses, but both of the links I provided detail amounts that differ from those in your articles by orders of magnitude...

The natural release of this amount of oil all at one time is a disaster by any measure, and isn't a daily, decadal, or even a millenial event --this size of release only occurs in nature on a geologic timescale, since(absent human activity) forces of tectonic magnitude are required to breach the deposits in the first place.

It's the scale of the event that matters far more than the mere fact of the spill, or even its origin.

Contd
Caliban
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 12, 2012
contd

But aside from the fact that just the DH spill by itself was equivalent to the entire annual global[natural] seepage of oil, it still must be made clear that this research is pointedly vague about the location, amount, and movement of the oil in question, that its conclusions rest upon a number of unproven assumptions regarding the ultimate disposition of it, and, in any event, that it only goes so far as to SUGGEST that 200,000 tons were consumed by bacterial activity. Meanwhile, the seafloor around the well continues to "seep" hydrocarbons at unknown rates.

In other words, it is highly questionable that the good little bacteria ate up all that oil, the DH spill was not just an insignificant amount of hydrocarbons compared to natural marine releases annually and NO, EVERYTHING IS NOT JUST PEACHY KEEN.

This disaster has created an ongoing shitstorm of onshore/offshore environmental horrors, reports of which -like that C.O.P. petro- keep seeping into the Public's awareness.

triplehelix
3 / 5 (11) Sep 12, 2012
Bacteria eating crude oils is not new science.

Why are there so many evangelical-esque amatuer environmentalists thinking that this school was paid off to invent this idea?

As to the bloom of bacteria affecting the ecosystem, absolute rubbish, bacterial growth has been researched for a very long time, and the death phase is VERY fast once all that oil got gobbled up. Not enough oil is there now to support the bloom, so the bloom died. Job done.

Does this mean we can let oil spill out everywhere? Of course not, who said this was okay? Once again, the environmentalists are acting like conspiracy theorists and being massively hot headed.

This article was simply stating that bacteria processed the majority of the oil spill. It's called a scientific observation. You see a fact, you demonstrate, you repeat, you publish, no pay offs, no secrets, no money laundering. Just basic fact-bacteria eat oil.
Deathclock
2.5 / 5 (11) Sep 12, 2012
Bacteria eating crude oils is not new science.

Why are there so many evangelical-esque amatuer environmentalists thinking that this school was paid off to invent this idea?

As to the bloom of bacteria affecting the ecosystem, absolute rubbish


I'm glad someone said it.
TrinityComplex
not rated yet Sep 12, 2012
Triplehelix, the estimates of the total amount of oil are 'as much as 4.9 million barrels', which amounts to about 680,500 tons, so it wouldn't quite be the majority if the upper estimates are correct.

Do bear in mind that they noted that the oil consumed was what was forced back into the water column via dispersants, rather than what would otherwise have been floating on the surface, so it's not a claim that the worry was blown out of proportion, or that no/less response needed to be made.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 12, 2012

Why are there so many evangelical-esque amatuer environmentalists thinking that this school was paid off to invent this idea?

This article was simply stating that bacteria processed the majority of the oil spill. It's called a scientific observation. You see a fact, you demonstrate, you repeat, you publish, no pay offs, no secrets, no money laundering. Just basic fact-bacteria eat oil.


This article says nothing of the sort. What it does say is that they think that bacteria MAY HAVE BEEN responsible for consuming part of a part of the spill.

But, as I pointed out earlier --there are many other physical and chemical processes that can disperse or degrade it that are far less benign than bacterial consumption, which is itself "benign" only in a relative sense.

A whole world of difference separates these two possible forms of disposition, and for these researchers to make the conclusive claim(which they DO NOT DO) would be nothing less than lying.

Now, do you get it?

Caliban
1 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2012
And Just for the sake of clarity, as that seems to be the difficulty here, what I am saying, at the most basic level, is that these researchers have, by publishing this so-called research, MADE a MOLEHILL of a MOUNTAIN.

Whether this was unintentional or not is pretty much immaterial beyond a basic sort of academic/scientific dishonesty, due to the conspicuous absence of the larger context surrounding these "findings".

Howhot
5 / 5 (2) Sep 12, 2012
the DH spill by itself was equivalent to the entire annual global[natural] seepage of oil,


That is a fact that people don't take into account. I've read it was far worst than that, but regardless, it was the worst ever.

triplehelix
1.7 / 5 (6) Sep 13, 2012
The article doesnt say it MAY be the case Caliban, it literally states they mapped out, over time, the eating habits and quantification of the oil spill decrease through these eating habits.

To the person I cant get the S/N of, why are you saying 200,000 tonnes isn't a lot based on the upper estimate? Why are you using an upper estimate? That's purposefully fitting the data to your viewpoint. You use the statistically derived estimate that is neutral. Your argument is a non sequitir, I can easily use the same logic but use the Lower estimate, and make the opposite conclusion, and it has the same validity as your statement.
triplehelix
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2012
Triplehelix, the estimates of the total amount of oil are 'as much as 4.9 million barrels', which amounts to about 680,500 tons, so it wouldn't quite be the majority if the upper estimates are correct.

Do bear in mind that they noted that the oil consumed was what was forced back into the water column via dispersants, rather than what would otherwise have been floating on the surface, so it's not a claim that the worry was blown out of proportion, or that no/less response needed to be made.


Did I claim that less response was needed?

This is what my original post was commenting on, that their are a lot of evangelical-esque environmentalists that go super defensive if you say anything along the lines of "not as bad as we thought". Science used to be a form of learning and discovery, but these days, its a tool used mostly for finding problems, how everything is going wrong, we're always at fault, and that it could cause "massive impacts". I think we need to reign in a bit.
NotParker
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2012
the DH spill by itself was equivalent to the entire annual global[natural] seepage of oil,


That is a fact that people don't take into account. I've read it was far worst than that, but regardless, it was the worst ever.



"There is effectively an oil spill every day at Coal Oil Point (COP), the natural seeps off Santa Barbara where 20 to 25 tons of oil have leaked from the sea floor each day for the last several hundred thousand years. "

25 tones per day = 22 years to match 200,000 tons.

Thats one spot.

http://www.livesc...sea.html

NotParker
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2012
"The amount of natural crude-oil
seepage is currently estimated to be 600,000 metric tons
per year, with a range of uncertainty of 200,000 to
2,000,000 metric tons per year. Thus, natural oil seeps
may be the single most important source of oil that
enters the ocean, exceeding each of the various sources
of crude oil that enters the ocean through its exploitation
by humankind."

http://137.227.23...L_23.pdf
Caliban
5 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012
"The amount of natural crude-oil
seepage is currently estimated to be 600,000 metric tons
per year, with a range of uncertainty of 200,000 to
2,000,000 metric tons per year. Thus, natural oil seeps
may be the single most important source of oil that
enters the ocean, exceeding each of the various sources
of crude oil that enters the ocean through its exploitation
by humankind."

http://137.227.23...L_23.pdf


Pay attention, NutPecker.

600,000 gallons is considered the "best estimate". That is the GLOBAL ANNUAL. So here you are again cherryPecking.

And from yor previous post -22 years is not a week, not 5 months, not a year, it is 22 YEARS. So stating that 25 tonnes oer day will equal the total global annual marine seepage after 22 years is factually correct, but totally irrelevant to the context of this conversation. And is yet another example of you not contributing anything besides further muddying of the waters.



NotParker
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 13, 2012

Pay attention, NutPecker.


I did. I found two references. One of them is one spot at 25 tons a day. So one spot can match the whole DH in 22 years.

There are more than one location seeping in the world. The paper says it could be as much as 10x Deepwater Horizons per year, but the best estimate is 3x.

You were too busy being a foul-mouthed time waster.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012
The article doesnt say it MAY be the case Caliban[...] the eating habits and quantification of the oil spill decrease through these eating habits.[q/]

note the brackets, th:

Previous studies of the Deepwater Horizon spill had shown that the oil and gas were trapped in underwater layers, or "plumes", and that the bacteria had begun consuming the oil and gas. By using a more extensive data set, the researchers were able to measure just how many tons of hydrocarbons released from the spill had been removed in the deep Gulf waters. [[The team's research suggests]] that the majority of what once composed these large underwater plumes of oil and gas was eaten by the bacteria[q/]

In other words, they based their assumption of bacterial activity upon the relative abundance of dissolved O2 --and not upon direct observation.

No mention made of direct oxidation/volatilization of these highly reactive compounds, nor dispersal through emulsion/mixing
in the wide waters of the gulf.

cont
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012

Pay attention, NutPecker.


I did. I found two references. One of them is one spot at 25 tons a day. So one spot can match the whole DH in 22 years.

There are more than one location seeping in the world. The paper says it could be as much as 10x Deepwater Horizons per year, but the best estimate is 3x.

You were too busy being a foul-mouthed time waster.


No, NutPecker, the DH spill alone was EQUAL TO the best estimateof global annual total. Learn how to perform simple calculations.

And no, NutPecker,

You are repeating back to me what I had just reminded you that I had provided citations for earlier.

Thus my admonition to PAY ATTENTION.

No go piss up a rope, moron.

Caliban
3 / 5 (2) Sep 13, 2012
contd

Further, they only loosely quantify the total volume of the "plume" that these bacteria supposedly feasted upon, and are only able to estimate an approximate volume of 200k tons, which is only roughly 1/3 of the total spill(by the official estimate --which could actually be MUCH higher) and of which, they estimate about 40%(of the estimate 200k tons) still remains. What they conspicuously lack is an ongoing analysis of a specific volume of water, with a specific volume of hydrocarbon and a specific amount of biomass derived from that hydrocarbon. They don't have anything even close to that.

I commend them for the effort, but their findings are based, as I stated earlier, upon questionable assumptions, rather than upon direct observation and measurement, with the exception of the relative abundance of dissolved O2 directly measured in their samples.
TrinityComplex
not rated yet Sep 13, 2012
Triplehelix, I didn't say 'it's not a lot' based on the upper estimate, I said it wasn't the majority. The fact that I said it was an estimate means that there is potential that you are right. It wasn't an insult, don't take it that way. It was a supply of data for a worst case scenario. The lower estimate is 418,056 tons until cap. My explanation was within the variability of the data, as there are no hard numbers, whereas you were speaking in absolutes about something that nobody has 100% verifiable data. The article doesn't say the majority of the spill, but the majority in a specific depth range. The second paragraph was not directed at you, but I can understand why that wouldn't be clear. Without knowing the exact inflection of other posters' words some of the writing is just ambiguous enough that they could have been stating that it wasn't actually a big deal, and that's what I was adressing.
(The lowest estimate I could find: http://www.ceoe.u...ll.aspx)
TrinityComplex
not rated yet Sep 13, 2012
Well, I guess it wouldn't be a majority even at the lower estimate. That's what I get for writing a comment over the course of an hour while working. All lower estimates I've been able to find were from outdated data, but if anyone can find a legitimate, current lower estimate I'd be interested to see it.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 13, 2012
Well, I guess it wouldn't be a majority even at the lower estimate. That's what I get for writing a comment over the course of an hour while working. All lower estimates I've been able to find were from outdated data, but if anyone can find a legitimate, current lower estimate I'd be interested to see it.


TC,

The "agreed upon" estimate of total spill is 4.9 Million barrels, which is roughly 600,000 Tonnes. So probably best to leave it at that, even though there are those who disagree?

Skepticus
1.8 / 5 (5) Sep 16, 2012
People are being disingenuous in glossing over the amounts involved in the BP oil spill, the amount eating by bacteria, in comparison to natural/ annual oil seeps. What they are glossing over is the damages a very high hydrocarbon concentration in a small locale in a very short time can do. To make an analogy, you body can take a few glasses of whiskey per day for decades with relative minimal harm, but to drain a bottle or two a day will surely send you to hospital or the morgue. Nature is not so different. It can only takes so much at anyone place at anyone time to be able to overcome the damage.
NotParker
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 16, 2012
People are being disingenuous in glossing over the amounts involved in the BP oil spill, the amount eating by bacteria, in comparison to natural/ annual oil seeps. What they are glossing over is the damages a very high hydrocarbon concentration in a small locale in a very short time can do. To make an analogy, you body can take a few glasses of whiskey per day for decades with relative minimal harm, but to drain a bottle or two a day will surely send you to hospital or the morgue. Nature is not so different. It can only takes so much at anyone place at anyone time to be able to overcome the damage.


Science says nature adapts. Some people think it cannot adapt.

I agree the world would be better off if there are no oil spills. And we should work on hard on learning from the accident and try to make sure it doesn't happen again.

The ocean near California survives 25 tons of oil a day and has survived 100s of thousands of years.
Caliban
1 / 5 (1) Sep 17, 2012
The ocean near California survives 25 tons of oil a day and has survived 100s of thousands of years.


No, NutPecker:

"The Coal Oil Point seep field offshore from Santa Barbara, California [...]releases about 40 tons per day of methane and about 19 tons of reactive organic gas (ethane, propane, butane and higher hydrocarbons), about twice the hydrocarbon air pollution released by all the cars and trucks in the county in 1990.[1]

Now pay attention...

[[This seep also releases on the order of 100 to 150 barrels (16 to 24 m3) of liquid petroleum per day.]] The field produces about 9 cubic meters of natural gas per barrel of petroleum.[2]"

That's the equivalent of about 12-18 tonnes/day of oil(liquid petro), at shallow depth, only part of which is consumed by bacteria. The rest is volatile/reactive organic compounds released as atmospheric pollutants/greenhouse gases.

Big difference from your picture. Read the wiki article. Your departure from the facts is a LIE.

NotParker
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 17, 2012
The ocean near California survives 25 tons of oil a day and has survived 100s of thousands of years.


"According to new findings by scientists from the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI), that's how much oil has made its way into sediments offshore from petroleum seeps near Coal Oil Point off Goleta, Calif., in the Santa Barbara Channel.

These natural seeps release some 20 to 25 tons of oil daily, "providing an ideal laboratory to investigate the fate of oil in the coastal ocean," says oceanographer David Valentine of UCSB."

http://www.nsf.go...d=114651

AGW = Abusive Low IQ Thugs.
Caliban
not rated yet Sep 17, 2012
http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=114651

AGW = Abusive Low IQ Thugs.


Always easy to ignore the details, distort the facts, and cherry- peck, isn't it, NutPecker.

This is what qualifies you as a Deliberate Liar, and therefore worthy of nothing more than contempt.

Get used to it.