Contamination of ground waters with water-soluble aromatic hydrocarbons, common components of petroleum pollution, often produces anoxic conditions under which microbial degradation of the aromatics is slow. Oxygen is often added to contaminated ground water to stimulate biodegradation, but this can be technically difficult and expensive. Insoluble Fe(III) oxides, which are generally abundant in shallow aquifers, are alternative potential oxidants, but are difficult for microorganisms to access. Here we report that adding organic ligands that bind to Fe(III) dramatically increases its bioavailability, and that in the presence of these ligands, rates of degradation of aromatic hydrocarbons in anoxic aquifer sediments are comparable to those in oxic sediments. We find that even benzene, which is notoriously refractory in the absence of oxygen, can be rapidly degraded. Our results suggest that increasing the bioavailability of Fe(III) by adding suitable ligands provides a potential alternative to oxygen addition for the bioremediation of petroleum-contaminated aquifers.