Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

UMass Researchers Find Key To Spurring Methane Conversion

Date:
April 14, 2000
Source:
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst
Summary:
Derek Lovley, head of the microbiology department at the University of Massachusetts, and Robert T. Anderson, microbiology graduate student at UMass, have found that bacteria living just below the earth's surface can be coaxed to rapidly convert oil to methane gas in oil-rich soil. Their findings, which are spelled out in an article in this week's issue of Nature, could change the way the oil exploration industry operates, according to Lovley.

AMHERST, Mass. -- Derek Lovley, head of the microbiology department at the University of Massachusetts, and Robert T. Anderson, microbiology graduate student at UMass, have found that bacteria living just below the earth's surface can be coaxed to rapidly convert oil to methane gas in oil-rich soil. Their findings, which are spelled out in an article in this week's issue of Nature, could change the way the oil exploration industry operates, according to Lovley.

Petroleum engineers often hit pockets of methane when exploring for oil. According to Lovley, specialized microorganisms that live deep in the earth break down oil to its simplest form, and the result of that process is what we call "natural gas," or methane. Underground pockets of explosive gas are oil-exploration hazards because they generally are contiguous to valuable oil reserves.

In the summer of 1999, Lovley and Anderson examined the site of a contaminated aquifer where crude oil had spilled, 30 feet below the surface of the earth near Bemidji, Minnesota. With the help of a $325,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's Life in Extreme Environments Program, the two were studying anaerobic metabolic processes of microbes living in and around the oil spill. The contamination had changed the composition of the microbial community from what was normally found in the Minnesota soil to something similar to what would be found near oil reservoirs. Unlike soil found much deeper in the earth, however, there was no sulfate in this soil. Until Lovley and Anderson's study, sulfate was thought to be a necessary ingredient in the process microbes use to break down oil.

"We know that microbial processes found in shallow environments are also common to deeper environments," explains Lovley, "We study microbes at shallow levels because it's hard to sample them down as deep as the oil reserves."

The researchers incubated the sediments in the laboratory under conditions that mimicked those found in the subsurface of the earth. Surprisingly, as soon as Lovley and Anderson added the oil component hexadecane with a carbon-14 tracer to the sediment, methane gas carrying the tracer was produced "without a lag." The two concluded that the microbes in the soil were converting the hexadecane and other oil components in the soil to methane gas, in the same way deep-dwelling microbes might complete the methane process in a natural environment.

"We found that, contrary to what was previously believed, it's not necessary to have sulfate present in order for microbes to produce methane from oil. This is important because significant amounts of sulfate are not usually found in oil reservoirs. This finding is very useful, with a potential for widespread application to the petroleum industry," says Lovley. "In some cases it might be beneficial to use microorganisms to convert the oil in reservoirs to methane because methane is easier to extract than oil.

"When we better understand the conditions under which microorganisms convert oil to methane, we should be able to better predict where explosive deposits of methane will be located. This should make oil exploration a bit safer."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. "UMass Researchers Find Key To Spurring Methane Conversion." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 April 2000. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000414081906.htm>.
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. (2000, April 14). UMass Researchers Find Key To Spurring Methane Conversion. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 31, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000414081906.htm
University Of Massachusetts At Amherst. "UMass Researchers Find Key To Spurring Methane Conversion." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2000/04/000414081906.htm (accessed July 31, 2014).

Share This




More Earth & Climate News

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Big Waves In Arctic Ocean Threaten Polar Ice

Newsy (July 30, 2014) Big waves in parts of the Arctic Ocean are unprecedented, mainly because they used to be covered in ice. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

Raw: Thousands Flocking to German Crop Circle

AP (July 30, 2014) Thousands of people are trekking to a Bavarian farmer's field to check out a mysterious set of crop circles. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

Amid Drought, UCLA Sees Only Water

AP (July 30, 2014) A ruptured 93-year-old water main left the UCLA campus awash in 8 million gallons of water in the middle of California's worst drought in decades. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

In Virginia, the Rise of a New Space Coast

AP (July 30, 2014) Every summer, tourists make the pilgrimage to Chincoteague Island, Va. to see wild ponies cross the Assateague Channel. But, it's the rockets sending to supplies to the International Space Station that are making this a year-round destination. (July 30) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

    Environment News

    Technology News



      Save/Print:
      Share:

      Free Subscriptions


      Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

      Get Social & Mobile


      Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

      Have Feedback?


      Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
      Mobile: iPhone Android Web
      Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
      Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
      Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins