Microorganisms have been used for making ethanol for centuries. The yeast has a long history. Biology has blessed or cursed humanity with bacteria that makes methane and methanol, an alarm for global warming as ruminates like cows pass methane in prodigious quantities – and people do too. The old garbage piled up and buried is being “drilled” for its naturally growing methane output. It seems like the stuff is everywhere.

It is. And there is a lot more to come.

Recently Mr. Pickens and his Plan make the case that natural gas, aka methane, could be used to displace imported oil for fueling personal light vehicles such as cars. The CEO of Chesapeake Energy, Aubrey K. McClendon, the U.S.’s largest producer of natural gas has hooked up to the Pickens Plan with advertising called CNG Now to promote more gas use. (CNGNOW.org) There are uncounted microorganisms that make methane, huge supplies of organic material to make it from and as hydrocarbons go, methane is the easiest to live with from pollution perspective. The shale natural gas, the tight sands natural gas, and the methane hydrates if they can be gathered pose an incredible supply beyond what’s in proven reserves are now. Natural gas will be with us for a very long time.

So when Oklahoma University researches working to root into the microorganisms that eat pipelines form the inside out found that these microorganisms could live in depleted oil reservoirs and convert unattainable oil into harvestable natural gas, I just have to look a little deeper.

There are in excess of 500,000 miles of petroleum pipeline in the U.S. The problem of leaks comes from the bit of water that comes along with crude production and the proportion has grown and is growing constantly as more water is used for enhanced recovery and comes along with oil production. It was long thought that anaerobes didn’t grow without oxygen, but that’s been proved wrong, microbes are quite good at life without oxygen. This is leading to laboratory research by 14 OU experts across the spectrum of the field. While the driver is the destruction of pipelines, the clue that microorganisms could be fed into old reservoirs and restart hydrocarbon production promises a big payoff.

Two thirds is the minimum expressed number of the oil remaining in place from known U.S. oil reserves. That’s a great deal of hydrocarbon available for reworking into methane. It also offers another way to relieve the pressure on oil for transport use. If OU can get a working organism to seed oil reservoirs the number of jobs, good return on investments, and energy security for the U.S. economy would be need only good rates of oil conversion to be a great benefit. The re-creation of oil patch and the good jobs and healthy economy would cover a wide swath of America.

The microorganisms are already known to work. OU is already looking into other kinds of reservoirs such as oil shale and other unconventional oil deposits.

From a beginning of trying to grasp the biological aspects of pipeline deterioration, the environmental activities that naturally clean hydrocarbon spills, and the difficulties of petroleum storage has started a new field, anaerobic hydrocarbon metabolism. Seen in the field as hydrocarbon splitting, this is a field with unprecedented possibilities.

This new science might need much more attention and funding for more research. The possibilities here stretch the imagination. What was once thought as depleted would not be, what was thought to be uneconomic may well be fruitful, what was once shut in might be a prolific production. There is lots of room for new careers in this area.

I look forward to more natural gas. It’s a common fuel, naturally made with a well known and in place distribution network already in place. If I were a politician, policy maker or investor, my prime concern wouldn’t be is the enough, but wondering when the next glut would be and the steps to help the business make and sell even more.

If energy security is the goal, then methane is the fastest and likely the lowest cost route to get there. With concentrated intelligence and effort, thoughtful and supportive policies, the U.S. can get to security and if truth be told – rather than be an energy importer, re-establish itself as an energy exporter once more.


2 Comments so far

  1. Kenya Gastelo on October 11, 2010 5:46 PM

    Ok, I agree with a large amount of what’s getting mentioned here, I’m relieved uncovered this topic. 🙂 I was just enjoying a discussion regarding issue in the company of my smart sister at the workplace.

  2. CNA Training on November 8, 2010 10:47 AM

    this post is very usefull thx!

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