Thermodynamic Constraints on Sulfate Reduction and Methanogenesis in a Coalbed Methane Reservoir

Monday, 15 December 2014
Matthew F Kirk1, Kyle A Marquart1, Brien H Wilson1, Theodore M Flynn2,3 and David S Vinson4, (1)Kansas State University, Department of Geology, Manhattan, KS, United States, (2)University of Chicago, Computation Institute, Chicago, IL, United States, (3)Argonne National Laboratory, Biosciences Division, Argonne, IL, United States, (4)University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Department of Geography and Earth Sciences, Charlotte, NC, United States
In this study we consider how commercial natural gas production could affect sulfate reduction and methanogenesis in coal-bearing sediments of the Cherokee Basin, Kansas, USA. Controls on the activity of these two groups of microbes are important to understand because their activity and interactions may influence methane formation and retention in unconventional reservoirs.

During November 2013, we collected water and gas samples from 16 commercial gas wells for geochemical and microbiological analysis. Results indicate that methane in the coalbeds formed biologically and that both methanogens and sulfate reducers are present. Gas samples consisted almost entirely of methane (C1/(C2+C3) = 2638 on avg.) and the δD and δ13C of methane averaged -222‰ VSMOW and -61‰ VPDB, respectively. Archaeal sequences in our samples were nearly all classified within groups of methanogens (avg. 91%) and cultivable methanogens were present in all water samples. On average, 6% of the bacterial sequences from our samples were classified in groups of sulfate reducers and sulfate available to support their activity ranged up to 110 µM in concentration.

Any interaction that occurs between these groups may be influenced by the energetics of their metabolic reactions. Thermodynamic calculations show that methanogens hold an energy advantage over sulfate reducers if dissolved methane concentrations are low. Under current conditions, methanogens see between 12 and 16 kJ mol-1 more usable free energy than sulfate reducers, if we assume a minimal methane concentration (1 µM). However, usable energy for methanogens would equal that available to sulfate reducers at methane concentrations ranging between 144 and 831 µM, well below saturation levels. Production activities that hold methane concentration below these levels, therefore, would help maintain an energy advantage for methanogens. In contrast, if production activities cause sulfate concentrations to increase, sulfate reducers would gain an energy advantage at lower methane concentrations.