Inhibiting Bio-corrosion

2010 San Bruno Pipeline Explosion

More recently, our work related to fossil energy production has focused on ameliorating the biogenesis of hydrogen sulfide during crude oil recovery. 

This highly toxic and corrosive compound poses both a significant health threat and environmental contamination risk.  Reservoir hydrogen sulfide biogenesis results in corrosion, metal-sulfide precipitation, and toxicity to personnel. Annual costs to the oil industry associated with this issue are estimated to be >$90 billion dollars globally.

Furthermore, corrosion of gas and oil transportation pipelines as a result of sulfide biogenesis represents a primary risk to both the environment and human life. Recent investigations into the San Bruno pipeline explosion invoked a possible link to pipeline corrosion occurring at imperfect joints.  Similar pipeline failures with resultant loss of life and catastrophic environmental damage have occurred across the world over the last 50 years.

Pipes for the Keystone PipelineThis is even more significant with the current plan to develop the Keystone Pipeline system to transport crude oil and diluted bitumen from the Athabasca oil sands region in northeastern Alberta, Canada to multiple destinations in the United States, which include refineries in Illinois, the Cushing oil distribution hub in Oklahoma, and proposed connections to refineries along the Gulf Coast of Texas.

Over the last three years research in my group has focused on identifying the cause of hydrogen sulfide biogenesis in oil reservoirs and on developing new technologies that can inhibit and reverse this deleterious process.  Our studies have revealed some conceptual fallacies surrounding current technologies aimed at controlling sulfide production and explained why the success of these technologies is unpredictable.  We have also identified a unique, effective, and predictable alternative to control and even reverse ongoing hydrogen sulfide production.

We have already identified the responsible microbiology, isolated and characterized novel microorganisms and applied these to demonstrate successful inhibition of hydrogen sulfide biogenesis in pure culture studies and in complex microbial systems.  We are currently focused on identifying the controlling geochemical parameters of this strategy and the underlying biochemical and genetic systems involved in the relevant microorganisms. In addition, together with various collaborators from the LBNL we are developing predictive tools that will allow for early warning of the onset of reservoir hydrogen sulfide biogenesis. Our ongoing studies show great promise for this technology and together with EBI and LBNL we hope to field trial it in the near future.