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Crude-oil biodegradation via methanogenesis in subsurface petroleum reservoirs

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Martin Jones, Professor Ian Head, Professor Neil Gray, Dr Arlene Rowan, Dr Carolyn Aitken, Dr Barry Bennett, Haiping Huang, Dr Angela Sherry, Bernard Bowler, Thomas Oldenburg, Professor Stephen Larter

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Abstract

Biodegradation of crude oil in subsurface petroleum reservoirs has adversely affected the majority of the world's oil, making recovery and refining of that oil more costly. The prevalent occurrence of biodegradation in shallow subsurface petroleum reservoirs has been attributed to aerobic bacterial hydrocarbon degradation stimulated by surface recharge of oxygen-bearing meteoric waters. This hypothesis is empirically supported by the likelihood of encountering biodegraded oils at higher levels of degradation in reservoirs near the surface. More recent findings, however, suggest that anaerobic degradation processes dominate subsurface sedimentary environments, despite slow reaction kinetics and uncertainty as to the actual degradation pathways occurring in oil reservoirs. Here we use laboratory experiments in microcosms monitoring the hydrocarbon composition of degraded oils and generated gases, together with the carbon isotopic compositions of gas and oil samples taken at wellheads and a Rayleigh isotope fractionation box model, to elucidate the probable mechanisms of hydrocarbon degradation in reservoirs. We find that crude-oil hydrocarbon degradation under methanogenic conditions in the laboratory mimics the characteristic sequential removal of compound classes seen in reservoir-degraded petroleum. The initial preferential removal of n-alkanes generates close to stoichiometric amounts of methane, principally by hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis. Our data imply a common methanogenic biodegradation mechanism in subsurface degraded oil reservoirs, resulting in consistent patterns of hydrocarbon alteration, and the common association of dry gas with severely degraded oils observed worldwide. Energy recovery from oilfields in the form of methane, based on accelerating natural methanogenic biodegradation, may offer a route to economic production of difficult-to-recover energy from oilfields. ©2007 Nature Publishing Group.


Publication metadata

Author(s): Jones DM, Head IM, Gray ND, Adams JJ, Rowan AK, Aitken CM, Bennett B, Huang H, Brown A, Bowler BFJ, Oldenburg T, Erdmann M, Larter SR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2008

Volume: 451

Issue: 7175

Pages: 176-180

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687

Publisher: Nature Publishing Group

URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature06484

DOI: 10.1038/nature06484

PubMed id: 18075503


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