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Biological activity in the deep subsurface and the origin of heavy oil

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Ian Head, Dr Martin Jones, Professor Stephen Larter


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At temperatures up to about 80 °C, petroleum in subsurface reservoirs is often biologically degraded, over geological timescales, by microorganisms that destroy hydrocarbons and other components to produce altered, denser 'heavy oils'. This temperature threshold for hydrocarbon biodegradation might represent the maximum temperature boundary for life in the deep nutrient-depleted Earth. Most of the world's oil was biodegraded under anaerobic conditions, with methane, a valuable commodity, often being a major by-product, which suggests alternative approaches to recovering the world's vast heavy oil resource that otherwise will remain largely unproduced.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Head IM, Jones DM, Larter SR

Publication type: Review

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2003

Volume: 426

Issue: 6964

Pages: 344-352

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687


DOI: 10.1038/nature02134

PubMed id: 14628064