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Anaerobic hydrocarbon biodegradation in deep subsurface oil reservoirs

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Carolyn Aitken, Dr Martin Jones, Professor Stephen Larter


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Biodegradation of crude oil in subsurface petroleum reservoirs is an important alteration process with major economic consequences(1). Aerobic degradation of petroleum hydrocarbons at the surface is well documented(2) and it has long been thought that the flow of oxygen- and nutrient-bearing meteoric waters into reservoirs was necessary for in-reservoir petroleum biodegradation(3). The occurrence of biodegraded oils in reservoirs where aerobic conditions are unlikely(4), together with the identification of several anaerobic microorganisms in oil fields(5) and the discovery of anaerobic hydrocarbon biodegradation mechanisms(6,7), suggests that anaerobic degradation processes could also be responsible. The extent of anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation processes in the world's deep petroleum reservoirs, however, remains strongly contested. Moreover, no organism has yet been isolated that has been shown to degrade hydrocarbons under the conditions found in deep petroleum reservoirs(8). Here we report the isolation of metabolites indicative of anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation from a large fraction of 77 degraded oil samples from both marine and lacustrine sources from around the world, including the volumetrically important Canadian tar sands. Our results therefore suggest that anaerobic hydrocarbon degradation is a common process in biodegraded subsurface oil reservoirs.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Aitken CM, Jones DM, Larter SR

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Nature

Year: 2004

Volume: 431

Issue: 7006

Pages: 291-294

ISSN (print): 0028-0836

ISSN (electronic): 1476-4687


DOI: 10.1038/nature02922


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