Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery
THE GULF BLUE PLAGUE IT’S NOT WISE TO FOOL MOTHER NATURE
On June 13, 2007, BP made a long-term research and development deal and an undisclosed equity investment into a company named Synthetic Genomics Inc. based in Rockville, Maryland. Synthetic Genomics was co-founded by Dr. J. Craig Venter to commercialize genomic-driven technologies. Genomics is the scientific study of the entire DNA sequence of an organism’s genome. A genome is all the genetic information in the chromosomes of an organism, including its genes and DNA sequences.
BP/Synthetic Genomics recovered the DNA from subsurface hydrocarbon substrates (biological organisms in crude oil) and applied DNA “sequencing methods” to them. What this means is that they took the DNA from underground crude oil reservoir microbial cells, such as bacteria or viruses, and cultured them in a lab to identify, isolate, and interpret their chemical and genetic properties. Additional “sequencing methods” beyond the initial identity and isolation stages were also carried out.
A central part of the deal between BP and Synthetic Genomics was to create biological transfer processes for crude oil that would lead to improved recovery rates. Their goal was to develop new microbes with lab created genomes that would improve the flow of gas and oil out of a reservoir. For an oil producer like BP, more oil and gas being recovered from a source translates into more profits. This process is known as Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR).
MICROBIAL ENHANCED OIL RECOVERY
Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery (MEOR) is the use of micro-organisms to retrieve additional petroleum production from an oil reservoir. Micro-organisms are introduced into oil wells to produce by-products which help propel oil out of the well. Because these processes help to mobilize the oil and assist oil flow, they allow a greater amount to be recovered from the well.
MEOR is a direct application of biotechnology. It uses biological materials – such as bacteria, microorganisms, and products of their metabolism – to assist the movement of oil out of a well. Other applications include genetic engineering techniques and recombinant DNA technology, which are used to develop new strains of bacteria with improved oil recovery traits.
The micro-organisms can be applied to an entire oil reservoir where they grow between the oil and the well’s rock surface to enhance oil recovery in the following ways:
Bio-surfactant Production – Microorganisms produce slippery substances called surfactants as they breakdown oil. Because they are naturally produced by biological microorganisms, they are referred to as bio-surfactants. Bio-surfactants act like slippery detergents, helping the oil move more freely away from rocks and crevices.
Reduction of oil viscosity – Oil is a thick fluid that is quite viscous, meaning that it does not flow easily. Microorganisms help break down the molecular structure of crude oil, making it more fluid and easier to recover.
Production of carbon dioxide gas – As a by-product of metabolism, micro-organisms produce carbon dioxide gas. Over time, this gas accumulates and displaces the oil driving it up and out of the ground.
The BP/Synthetic Genomics alliance was centered on developing new micro-organisms with lab created genomes (synthetic DNA) to improve the outflow of gas and oil reservoirs. That alliance was publicly announced on June 13, 2007. As to what prior date the actual agreement was made is a corporate privacy matter.
However, less than two weeks before the public announcement, on May 31, 2007, US Patent application number 20070122826 was published claiming exclusive ownership of a set of essential genes and a synthetic “free-living organism that can grow and replicate” that is made using those genes. An international patent application at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO number WO2007047148, published April 27, 2007) names more than 100 countries where it may seek monopoly patents.
The company that applied for the patents was the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a non-profit company founded by genetic scientist J. Craig Venter who also founded Synthetic Genomics, BP’s business alliance partner. Both are based in Rockville, Maryland. By no mere coincidence, Synthetic Genomics Inc. sponsors (pays for) fundamental research at JCVI. Since BP has a developmental and research deal as well as an undisclosed amount of equitable stock ownership with Synthetic Genomics, it’s obvious who’s paying for the synthetic genetic research and results at JCVI.
Begin connecting the dots in order to see the picture.
BP WELLS AT MC252 GULF OF MEXICO
Since they were paying for genetic research to increase oil well flow and production, logic dictates that BP needed to apply a newly created micro-organism(s) produced by their alliance with Synthetic Genomics to the oil reservoir located beneath their Mississippi Canyon Block 252 lease in the Gulf of Mexico. According to BP’s submitted U.S. Minerals Management Service (MMS) application, there were to be two exploration (not production) wells drilled and capped designated as Wells A and B. Exploration wells are commonly used to inject or introduce Microbial Enhanced Oil Recovery micro-organisms and their nutrients into an oil reservoir for increased present and future production.
The first exploration well had been partially drilled by Transocean in October, 2009, but their Marianas semi-submersible drilling rig was damaged by hurricane Ida and was removed for repairs in late November, 2009. On February 3, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible rig commenced exploration drilling to complete the unfinished drilling operation of the Marianas rig. On February 13, 2010, BP informed the MMS that they were experiencing uncontrollable bursts of gas and large cracks at the base of the well. That was the reason they filed for and were granted a permit to abandon and cap the well the same day.
Shortly after, Deepwater Horizon commenced drilling the other exploratory well for BP. We all know the result of the second drilling operation that destroyed the Deepwater Horizon rig on April 22, 2010. One fact that can’t be refuted regarding both exploratory wells is the extreme gas pressures coming from the oil reservoir and the resulting cracks on the ocean floor.
As noted above, MEOR micro-organisms can be applied to an oil reservoir where they grow between the oil and the well’s rock surface to enhance oil recovery. As a by-product of metabolism, micro-organisms produce carbon dioxide gas and this gas accumulates and displaces the oil by driving it up and out of the ground. At the same time, micro-organisms can break down the viscosity of the oil so that it’s thinner and can flow easier.
The published commercial goal of the BP/Synthetic Genomics alliance was to create new genetically engineered micro-organisms to increase the flow of oil. A public trademark of that research involves man-made genomes [synthetic DNA] controlling new artificial cellular organisms. Because of the vast estimated reserves of oil at MC252 in the Gulf of Mexico, the temperatures involved, and its extreme low oxygen depth, previous known or lab enhanced micro-organisms would not be effective in creating an increased flow of the oil.
One can only imagine what the results would be of a new MEOR synthetic bacteria that had a computer DNA designed capability to replicate itself rapidly in that extreme environment. The outcome would be unpredictable since it had never been tested in those conditions before… or had it?
Connect the dots to see more of the picture. Read more…