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Using Microorganisms as Prospecting Agents in Oil and Gas Exploration


Hubert,  C.
Department of Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Max Planck Society;

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Hubert, C., & Judd, A. (2010). Using Microorganisms as Prospecting Agents in Oil and Gas Exploration. In K. N. Timmis (Ed.), Handbook of Hydrocarbon and Lipid Microbiology (pp. 2731-2725). Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag Berlin.

Migration of hydrocarbons from subsurface petroleum reservoirs to surface environments has led to the use of hydrocarbon seep detection as an exploration tool in the oil and gas industry. Here we discuss microbiological features of hydrocarbon seeps and propose ways to take advantage of seep-associated microorganisms as useful pathfinders to aid petroleum exploration strategies. Environments where hydrocarbons seep to the surface are colonized by aerobic and anaerobic hydrocarbon-utilizing microorganisms. Detecting increasing densities of these organisms can indicate the presence of seeps and hence subsurface hydrocarbon reservoirs. Anaerobic microorganisms native to petroleum reservoir habitats may be transported upwards with seeping hydrocarbon fluids to surface environments. These “hitchhiker cells” may represent alternative and conspicuous targets for use in hydrocarbon seep prospecting. The development of either approach depends on a thorough understanding of the microbiology of surface hydrocarbon seeps and deep petroleum reservoirs. Both strategies also require quantitative detection assays that are well-constrained for carefully chosen indicator organisms. Integrating microbiological data with other prospecting approaches will offer additional and independent information to strengthen oil and gas exploration strategies.