Biological souring and mitigation in oil reservoirs

Appl Microbiol Biotechnol. 2011 Oct;92(2):263-82. doi: 10.1007/s00253-011-3542-6. Epub 2011 Aug 20.


Souring in oil field systems is most commonly due to the action of sulfate-reducing prokaryotes, a diverse group of anaerobic microorganisms that respire sulfate and produce sulfide (the key souring agent) while oxidizing diverse electron donors. Such biological sulfide production is a detrimental, widespread phenomenon in the petroleum industry, occurring within oil reservoirs or in topside processing facilities, under low- and high-temperature conditions, and in onshore or offshore operations. Sulfate reducers can exist either indigenously in deep subsurface reservoirs or can be "inoculated" into a reservoir system during oil field development (e.g., via drilling operations) or during the oil production phase. In the latter, souring most commonly occurs during water flooding, a secondary recovery strategy wherein water is injected to re-pressurize the reservoir and sweep the oil towards production wells to extend the production life of an oil field. The water source and type of production operation can provide multiple components such as sulfate, labile carbon sources, and sulfate-reducing communities that influence whether oil field souring occurs. Souring can be controlled by biocides, which can non-specifically suppress microbial populations, and by the addition of nitrate (and/or nitrite) that directly impacts the sulfate-reducing population by numerous competitive or inhibitory mechanisms. In this review, we report on the diversity of sulfate reducers associated with oil reservoirs, approaches for determining their presence and effects, the factors that control souring, and the approaches (along with the current understanding of their underlying mechanisms) that may be used to successfully mitigate souring in low-temperature and high-temperature oil field operations.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / metabolism*
  • Industrial Microbiology*
  • Oil and Gas Fields / microbiology*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Petroleum / analysis*
  • Petroleum / microbiology
  • Sulfates / metabolism


  • Petroleum
  • Sulfates