The Barnett Shale in north central Texas contains natural gas generated by high temperatures (120 to 150°C) during the Mississippian Period (300 to 350 million years ago). In spite of the thermogenic origin of this gas, biogenic sulfide production and microbiologically induced corrosion have been observed at several natural gas wells in this formation. It was hypothesized that microorganisms in drilling muds were responsible for these deleterious effects. Here we collected drilling water and drilling mud samples from seven wells in the Barnett Shale during the drilling process. Using quantitative real-time PCR and microbial enumerations, we show that the addition of mud components to drilling water increased total bacterial numbers, as well as the numbers of culturable aerobic heterotrophs, acid producers, and sulfate reducers. The addition of sterile drilling muds to microcosms that contained drilling water stimulated sulfide production. Pyrosequencing-based phylogenetic surveys of the microbial communities in drilling waters and drilling muds showed a marked transition from typical freshwater communities to less diverse communities dominated by Firmicutes and Gammaproteobacteria. The community shifts observed reflected changes in temperature, pH, oxygen availability, and concentrations of sulfate, sulfonate, and carbon additives associated with the mud formulation process. Finally, several of the phylotypes observed in drilling muds belonged to lineages that were thought to be indigenous to marine and terrestrial fossil fuel formations. Our results suggest a possible alternative exogenous origin of such phylotypes via enrichment and introduction to oil and natural gas reservoirs during the drilling process
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