Control of hydrogen sulfide production in oil fields by managing microbial communities through nitrate or nitrite addition

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Nitrate or nitrite injection into oil reservoirs during water flooding has the potential to control biological souring, the production of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) by sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Souring control is essential because sulfide is toxic, sulfide precipitates can plug reservoir formations, souring lowers crude oil value, and SRB induce corrosion. Nitrate and nitrite can stimulate heterotrophic nitrate- or nitrite­reducing bacteria (hNRB) and nitrate- or nitrite-reducing, sulfide oxidizing bacteria (NR­SOB). Nitrite also inhibits SRB activity by blocking the sulfate reduction pathway. Continuous up-flow packed-bed bioreactors were inoculated with produced water from the Coleville oil field to establish sulfide-producing biofilms similar to those found in sour reservoirs. Nitrate or nitrite addition to bioreactors indicated that the dose required for hNRB or NR-SOB to control souring depended on the concentration of oil organics. Either mechanism mediates the net removal of oil organics (lactate) with nitrate or nitrite, with lower doses of nitrate required due to its greater oxidative power. Microbial community analysis by reverse sample genome probing (RSGP) revealed that NR-SOB mediated sulfide removal at low nitrate or nitrite concentrations when lactate was still available to SRB and the redox potential was low. At high nitrate doses hNRB oxidized lactate directly, produced nitrite and maintained a high redox potential, thus excluding SRB activity. Facultatively chemolithotrophic Campylobacter sp. strains were isolated from the bioreactors and incorporated into RSGP analyses, revealing their dominance in both NR-SOB- and hNRB-containing communities. The metabolic flexibility of these strains may confer a competitive advantage over obligate chemolithotrophs like Thiomicrospira sp. strain CVO or hNRB that do not have NR-SOB activity like newly isolated Thauera sp. and Rhodobacter sp. strains. A single high dose of nitrite resulted in immediate inhibition of SRB that was independent of hNRB or NR-SOB. Examination of corrosion coupons following bioreactor experiments revealed that nitrite inhibition was the only mechanism that prevented both souring and corrosion. Sulfide elimination by hNRB or NR-SOB resulted in increased pitting corrosion in the region of greatest microbial activity. These findings are instructive for designing souring control treatments and improve understanding of oil field microbial communities.
Bibliography: p. 165-175
Hubert, C. R. (2004). Control of hydrogen sulfide production in oil fields by managing microbial communities through nitrate or nitrite addition (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/14739