The effect of minor to moderate biodegradation on C5 to C 9 hydrocarbons in crude oils

Simon C. George*, Christopher J. Boreham, Sandra A. Minifie, Stan C. Teerman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

116 Citations (Scopus)


A suite of 18 oils from the Barrow Island oilfield, Australia, and a non-biodegraded reference oil have been analysed compositionally in order to detail the effect of minor to moderate biodegradation on C5 to C 9 hydrocarbons. Carbon isotopic data for individual low molecular weight hydrocarbons were also obtained for six of the oils. The Barrow Island oils came from different production wells, reservoir horizons, and compartments, but have a common source (the Upper Jurassic Dingo Claystone Formation), with some organo-facies differences. Hydrocarbon ratios based on hopanes, steranes, alkylnaphthalenes and alkylphenanthrenes indicate thermal maturities of about 0.8% Rc for most of the oils. The co-occurrence in all the oils of relatively high amounts of 25-norhopanes with C5 to C9 hydrocarbons, aromatic hydrocarbons and cyclic alkanes implies that the oils are the result of multiple charging, with a heavily biodegraded charge being overprinted by fresher and more pristine oil. The later oil charge was itself variably biodegraded, leading to significant compositional variations across the oilfield, which help delineate compartmentalisation. Biodegradation resulted in strong depletion of n-alkanes (>95%) from most of the oils. Benzene and toluene were partially or completely removed from the Barrow Island oils by water washing. However, hydrocarbons with lower water solubility were either not affected by water washing, or water washing had only a minor effect. There are three main controls on the susceptibility to biodegradation of cyclic, branched and aromatic low molecular weight hydrocarbons: carbon skeleton, degree of alkylation, and position of alkylation. Firstly, ring preference ratios at C6 and C7 show that isoalkanes are retained preferentially relative to alkylcyclohexanes, and to some extent alkylcyclopentanes. Dimethylpentanes are substantially more resistant to biodegradation than most dimethylcyclopentanes, but methylhexanes are depleted faster than methylpentanes and dimethylcyclopentanes. For C8 and C9 hydrocarbons, alkylcyclohexanes are more resistant to biodegradation than linear alkanes. Secondly, there is a trend of lower susceptibility to biodegradation with greater alkyl substitution for isoalkanes, alkylcyclohexanes, alkylcyclopentanes and alkylbenzenes. Thirdly, the position of alkylation has a strong control, with adjacent methyl groups reducing the susceptibility of an isomer to biodegradation. 1,2,3-Trimethylbenzene is the most resistant of the C 3 alkylbenzene isomers during moderate biodegradation. 2-Methylalkanes are the most susceptible branched alkanes to biodegradation, 3-methylalkanes are the most resistant and 4-methylalkanes have intermediate resistance. Therefore, terminal methyl groups are more prone to bacterial attack compared to mid-chain isomers, and C3 carbon chains are more readily utilised than C2 carbon chains. 1,1-Dimethylcyclopentane and 1,1-dimethylcyclohexane are the most resistant of the alkylcyclohexanes and alkylcyclopentanes to biodegradation. The straight-chained and branched C 5-C9 alkanes are isotopically light (depleted in 13C) relative to cycloalkanes and aromatic hydrocarbons. The effects of biodegradation consistently lead to enrichment in 13C for each remaining hydrocarbon, due to preferential removal of 12C. Differences in the rates of biodegradation of low molecular weight hydrocarbons shown by compositional data are also reflected in the level of enrichment in 13C. The carbon isotopic effects of biodegradation show a decreasing level of isotopic enrichments in 13C with increasing molecular weight. This suggests that the kinetic isotope effect associated with biodegradation is site-specific and often related to a terminal carbon, where its impact on the isotopic composition becomes progressively 'diluted' with increasing carbon number. Crown

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1293-1317
Number of pages25
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2002
Externally publishedYes


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