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Characterization of Thermophilic Consortia from Two Souring Oil Reservoirs

By R. F. Mueller and P. H. Nielsen


The microbial consortia from produced water at two different oil fields in Alaska (Kuparuk) and the North Sea (Ninian) were investigated for sulfate-reducing and methanogenic activity over a range of temperatures and for a variety of substrates. The consortia were sampled on site, and samples were either incubated on site at 60(deg)C with various substrates or frozen for later incubation and analyses. Temperature influenced the rates of sulfate reduction, hydrogen sulfide production, and substrate oxidation, as well as the cell morphology. The highest rates of sulfate reduction and substrate oxidation were found between 50 and 60(deg)C. Formate and n-butyrate were the most favorable electron donors at any tested temperature. Acetate was utilized at 35(deg)C but not at 50 or 70(deg)C and was produced at 60(deg)C. This indicates that the high levels of acetate found in produced water from souring oil formations are due mainly to an incomplete oxidation of volatile fatty acids to acetate. The cell size distribution of the microbial consortium indicated a nonuniform microbial composition in the original sample from the Kuparuk field. At different temperatures, different microbial morphologies and physiologies were observed. Methane-producing activity at thermophilic temperatures (60(deg)C) was found only for the Kuparuk consortium when hydrogen and carbon dioxide were present. No methane production from acetate was observed. Suppression of methanogenic activity in the presence of sulfate indicated a competition with sulfate-reducing bacteria for hydrogen

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