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Succession in the petroleum reservoir microbiome through an oil field production lifecycle

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Adrien Vigneron, Professor Ian Head



This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0).


Subsurface petroleum reservoirs are an important component of the deep biosphere where indigenous microorganisms live under extreme conditions and in isolation from the Earth’s surface for millions of years. However, unlike the bulk of the deep biosphere, the petroleum reservoir deep biosphere is subject to extreme anthropogenic perturbation, with the introduction of new electron acceptors, donors and exogenous microbes during oil exploration and production. Despite the fundamental and practical significance of this perturbation, there has never been a systematic evaluation of the ecological changes that occur over the production lifetime of an active offshore petroleum production system. Analysis of the entire Halfdan oil field in the North Sea (32 producing wells in production for 1 to 15 years) using qPCR, multigenic sequencing, comparative metagenomic and genomic bins reconstruction revealed systematic shifts in microbial community composition and metabolic potential as well as changing ecological strategies in response to anthropogenic perturbation of the oil field ecosystem, related to length of time in production. The microbial communities were initially dominated by slow growing anaerobes such as members of the Thermotogales and Clostridiales adapted to living on hydrocarbons and complex refractory organic matter. However, as seawater and nitrate injection (used for secondary oil production) delivered oxidants, the microbial community composition progressively changed to fast growing opportunists such as members of the Deferribacteres, Delta-, Epsilon- and Gammaproteobacteria, with energetically more favourable metabolism (e.g. nitrate reduction, H2S, sulfide and sulfur oxidation). This perturbation has profound consequences for understanding the microbial ecology of the system and is of considerable practical importance as it promotes detrimental processes such as reservoir souring and metal corrosion. These findings provide a new conceptual framework for understanding the petroleum reservoir biosphere and have consequences for developing strategies to manage microbiological problems in the oil industry.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Vigneron A, Alsop EB, Lomans BP, Kyrpides NC, Head IM, Tsesmetzis N

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: The ISME Journal

Year: 2017

Volume: 11

Pages: 2141-2154

Online publication date: 19/05/2017

Acceptance date: 25/04/2017

Date deposited: 30/05/2017

ISSN (print): 1751-7362

ISSN (electronic): 1751-7370

Publisher: Springer-Nature


DOI: 10.1038/ismej.2017.78


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Funder referenceFunder name
NE/J024325/1Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)