How Nova Scotia scientists use bacteria to find oil

Herald News
| July 12, 2016 | Dinshaw Staff Reporter

Scientists are using oil-eating bacteria to help guide them to fresh hydrocarbon deposits off the Nova Scotia coast.

Working under senior geophysicist Adam MacDonald at the Nova Scotia Department of Energy, the research team aims to identify bacteria that eat oil deposits, then combine this information with geoscience maps and data to help pinpoint areas for exploration.

Core samples from the ocean bottom will be collected and geochemically analyzed. At the same time, a team of University of Calgary microbiologists will use genomics — the combination of genetics, biology and computer science to map the DNA of oil-hungry bacteria.

“It’s one more piece to the puzzle. We do all kinds of things to find oil and gas and it’s one more tool,” said MacDonald, adding that where such bacteria are found, oil will follow.

He said that oil-eating bacteria come in three types — oxic (needing oxygen to survive), anoxic or not reliant on oxygen, and dormant. This third type of bacteria only becomes active when their oil-based food supply is present and will shut themselves down if it is not available.

“What they spray on oil spills is oil-eating bacteria,” said MacDonald.

In addition, following bacteria to hydrocarbon sources will also help energy companies find new deposits with less need for exploratory drilling, which can endanger marine wildlife and habitats.

“That’s what we’re all about — decreasing risks. It saves people money and if you do less (drilling) you overall reduce your environmental footprint,” said MacDonald.

The research team are focusing their efforts in the southwestern portion of the Scotian Slope, a region of offshore continental shelf that ranges in depth from 1,000 to 3,500 metres below sea level. The oceanic shelf is located more than 200 kilometres off Nova Scotia’s southern coastline.

“This work builds on the Play Fairway Analysis that reduced risk for investors and helped attract more than $2 billion in new exploration to Nova Scotia,” said provincial Energy Minister Michel Samson.

“This new research is an exciting and unique opportunity to gain an even deeper understanding of our offshore petroleum resources, position Nova Scotia as globally attractive, and generate new industry interest.”

Read the full story here.

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