Researchers at Luca Technologies have confirmed the presence of a methane-generating community of microorganisms in samples taken from the Monument Butte oilfield in North Eastern Utah. This may provide the opportunity to convert a finite oil resource into a long-term producer of natural gas.

The 110,000-acre Monument Butte site represents the latest in a series of active Geobioreactors that Luca Technologies has identified since its first demonstration of this phenomenon in the Powder River Basin coalfields of Wyoming.

Geobioreactors are sites where microbial conversion of underground hydrocarbon deposits (oil, oil shales, and coal) to methane is ongoing. Such Geobioreactors may offer the potential of turning currently finite energy reserves into methane ‘farms’ capable of long-term, sustainable energy generation.

The hydrocarbon resources available in the Monument Butte oilfield are very large, making the possibility of shifting from oil production to the ongoing farming of clean, natural gas an attractive consideration, said Robert Pfeiffer, president and CEO of Luca Technologies. He noted that the Monument Butte site was one of six oil fields across the US that Luca has been studying. The company has demonstrated two of those sites to be robust, methane-generating Geobioreactors, and two to be less actively generating methane.

Three additional sites are not currently active but may have the potential to be turned into active Geobioreactors through cross-inoculation with microbial consortia from active sites.

Oil within the Monument Butte field has a waxy composition that may facilitate the strong real-time methane generation we see at this site, commented Pfeiffer. If so, then areas with large accumulations of waxy oil – for example, the Daqing Field in Northeast China – could prove to be important sites for the bioconversion of residual oil to methane and the restoration of these ‘spent’ sites to economic energy production.