The methanogenic biodegradation of crude oil is an important process occurring in petroleum reservoirs and other oil-containing environments such as contaminated aquifers. In this process, syntrophic bacteria degrade hydrocarbon substrates to products such as acetate, and/or H2 and CO2 that are then used by methanogens to produce methane in a thermodynamically dependent manner. We enriched a methanogenic crude oil-degrading consortium from production waters sampled from a low temperature heavy oil reservoir. Alkylsuccinates indicative of fumarate addition to C5 and C6 n-alkanes were identified in the culture (above levels found in controls), corresponding to the detection of an alkyl succinate synthase gene (assA) in the culture. In addition, the enrichment culture was tested for its ability to produce methane from residual oil in a sandstone-packed column system simulating a mature field. Methane production rates of up 5.8 μmol CH4/g of oil/day were measured in the column system. Amounts of produced methane were in relatively good agreement with hydrocarbon loss showing depletion of more than 50% of saturate and aromatic hydrocarbons. Microbial community analysis revealed that the enrichment culture was dominated by members of the genus Smithella, Methanosaeta, and Methanoculleus. However, a shift in microbial community occurred following incubation of the enrichment in the sandstone columns. Here, Methanobacterium sp. were most abundant, as were bacterial members of the genus Pseudomonas and other known biofilm forming organisms. Our findings show that microorganisms enriched from petroleum reservoir waters can bioconvert crude oil components to methane both planktonically and in sandstone-packed columns as test systems. Further, the results suggest that different organisms may contribute to oil biodegradation within different phases (e.g., planktonic versus sessile) within a subsurface crude oil reservoir.
Berdugo-Clavijo, C., & Gieg, L. M. (2014). Conversion of crude oil to methane by a microbial consortium enriched from oil reservoir production waters. Frontiers in Microbiology, 5(MAY). https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2014.00197