Metal-reducing microorganisms in petroleum reservoirs

  • Shahrakbah Yacob

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Metal-reducing microorganisms reduce a variety of metals in metabolic processes coupled to the oxidation of organic compounds. These bacteria play an important role in the biogeochemical cycling of metals and organic matter in anaerobic aquatic and sediment ecosystems. It has been proposed recently that metal-reducing microorganisms also are active in deep subsurface environments such as petroleum reservoirs. Only two metal-reducing bacteria have been isolated from petroleum reservoir fluids, Shewanella putrefaciens and Deferribacter thermophilus. This project studied the occurrence and distribution of metal-reducing microorganisms in petroleum reservoirs. The research focused on the isolation, characterisation and identification of anaerobic bacteria from petroleum reservoirs that were capable of reducing metals and the potential roles of these isolates in the microbial ecology and biogeochemical cycling of petroleum reservoirs. Petroleum reservoirs were selected for this study on the basis of physio-chemical conditions such as temperature, salinity, pH and the presence of organic and inorganic compounds, that were likely to provide a suitable environment for anaerobic bacteria capable of reducing metals. Factors such as the stratigraphic features of the sedimentary basin, age of reservoir and past oil field practices also were considered in choosing the reservoir for study. Seven petroleum reservoirs in the USA and Azerbaijan were chosen for extensive investigations. The physico-chemical conditions in these reservoirs varied substantially. A systematic study of the production water from these petroleum reservoirs revealed a consistent presence of iron- and manganese-reducing microorganisms. It was found that salinity and temperature play a significant and defining role in the occurrence and distribution of these metal-reducing microorganisms. Biotic metal reduction was detected from production waters from all but one of the oil wells sampled. It was significant that the water from this well (Neftcala #1074) was the most saline (78 g/l NaCI). Metal-reducing activity was detected at temperatures up to 70C. Two pure cultures, strains RED1 for Redwash petroleum reservoir (USA) and NEF1 from the Neftcala petroleum reservoir (Azerbaijan) were isolated and characterized. The strains had diverse physiological and metabolic properties including the ability to oxidize a wide range of carbon compounds and reduce a variety of metals. Their temperature, salinity and pH optima varied markedly. Phylogenetic analyses of the 16S rRNA of strain RED1 showed that the strain represented a new species of a new genus in the domain Bacteria. The bacterium most closely related to strain RED1 is the fermentative Fe(III)-reducer, Pelobacter acetylenicus (similarity value,92.8%). Strain NEF1 possesses a unique combination of phenotypic traits and a low mol % G+C. From preliminary analyses and comparative biochemistry,NEF1 appears to be a novel metal-reducing bacterium of the Flexistipes group. The bacteria isolated in this study were able to grow at temperatures and salinities consistent with the reservoir from which they were isolated. This indicated that petroleum reservoirs are a new source of physiologically diverse, novel, metal-reducing microorganisms. The bacteria isolated also demonstrated a number of characteristics that would enable them to survive and persist in extreme subsurface conditions and develop a selective ecological advantage in petroleum reservoir environments. Significantly, the metal-reducing bacteria isolated were able to utilize an array of metabolic products produced by bacteria indigenous to petroleum reservoirs. This has resulted in a new proposed model for the ecological succession of bacteria in petroleum reservoirs.
Date of Award2000
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorAlan James Sheehy (Supervisor) & Tony Greene (Supervisor)

Cite this

Metal-reducing microorganisms in petroleum reservoirs
Yacob, S. (Author). 2000

Student thesis: Master's Thesis