Deuterium as a Quantitative Tracer of Enhanced Microbial Coalbed Methane Production
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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EmbargoRelease after 5-Jul-2018
AbstractMicrobial production of natural gas in subsurface organic-rich reservoirs (e.g. coal, shale, oil) can be enhanced by the introduction of limiting nutrients to stimulate microbial communities to generate “new” methane resources on human timescales. The few successful field experiments of Microbial Enhancement of Coalbed Methane (MECoM) relied on relatively qualitative approaches for estimating the amount of “new” methane produced during the stimulation process (i.e. extrapolation of pre-stimulation gas production curves). We have tested deuterated water as a tracer, initially in the laboratory, to more directly quantify the amount of “new” methane generated and the effectiveness of MECoM stimulation approaches. Microorganisms, formation water, and coal obtained during a previous drilling project in the Powder River Basin, Birney, Montana were used to set up a series of benchtop stimulation experiments where we added incremental amounts of deuterated water to triplicate sets of stimulated microbes (methanogens). We hypothesized that as MECoM progresses, methanogens will incorporate the heavy water into new methane produced, as methanogens naturally uptake hydrogen during methanogenesis. The amount of hydrogen incorporated into methane from water is dependent on the methanogenic pathway (hydrogenotropic vs acetoclastic/methylotrophic). During the experiments, we saw a shift in the methanogenic pathway towards acetoclastic methanogenesis, which was indicated by a consistent shift in the enrichment of deuterium in the methane produced, methanogenic community, and a large kinetic fractionation. The enrichment of the methane as compared to the deuterium content of the water the microbes used followed a narrowly confined, predictable range of values. This predictable enrichment of the methane allows us to propose a quantification scheme for the amount of methane produced in larger field scale stimulations, as we can compare the change in the overall deuterium content of the in-situ methane with the known value before the stimulation. The success of our proof-of-concept laboratory experiments suggests that deuterium may be used as a tracer of “new” natural gas resources in field- to commercial-scale MECoM projects. In addition, additions of deuterated water may also be useful as a tracer in bioremediation projects where large background pools of contaminants or degradation products hamper traditional quantification techniques, microbial enhanced oil recovery, or other subsurface carbon cycling pathways.
Degree ProgramGraduate College