Geospatial Hydrochemical and Microbiological Implications on the Occurrence of Crude Oil Biodegradation and Methanogenesis

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Jenna Shelton1,2, Jennifer C McIntosh3, Peter Warwick1 and John E McCray2, (1)U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, VA, United States, (2)Colorado School Mines, Golden, CO, United States, (3)University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ, United States
Technologies that serve as a bridge between renewable energy and fossil fuels are needed to meet growing energy demands and to mitigate climate change. Many reservoirs contain difficult to produce residual and/or heavily biodegraded (i.e., geochemically altered) crude oil, which remains a relatively untapped resource. Production of this residual crude oil via unconventional methods, such as enhanced oil recovery (EOR), has offset some of the decline in conventional oil production. EOR is not efficient enough to recover all of the original oil in place, and some methods are not effective for very heavy crude oils. Stimulation of in-situ microorganisms to convert the residual crude oil to natural gas (i.e., microbial methane) is one promising strategy to “extract” residual and /or heavy crude oil. Although the hydrogeochemical conditions necessary for the occurrence of both crude oil biodegradation and microbial methanogenesis in various reservoirs have been studied, there are still gaps in research. Many hydrogeochemical factors have been researched individually (not as part of a multifactor or lithologically similar system) and little work has assessed the microbiological limitations of both processes. Our goal is to determine the hydrogeochemical and microbiological conditions required for maximum crude oil biodegradation and microbial methanogenesis across a lithologically similar unit. Produced water, oil, gas, and microbial biomass samples were collected from wells completed in the Paleocene—Eocene Wilcox Group in central Louisiana. Initial results indicate potential relationships between the amount of crude oil biodegradation, indicators of microbial methanogenesis, and aqueous geochemistry. For example, produced waters with the lowest salinity had the highest crude oil biodegradation, and wells exhibiting the most microbial methane generation produce waters with hydrogeochemical conditions most fit for methanogenesis to occur. In sampled wells displaying similar hydrogeochemical conditions (e.g., similar temperatures), indicators of methanogenesis, such as δ13C dissolved inorganic carbon values, are more pronounced in wells displaying oils that are more biodegraded, suggesting methanogenesis may be accelerated with greater amounts of crude oil biodegradation.