Microbes growing in biofilms encourage microbially-influenced corrosion (MIC) of carbon steel pipelines and can reduce the quality of the products those pipelines are carrying. That’s not good for companies pumping crude or refined oil though long pipes!
Biocorrosion / MIC costs billions of dollars in damage every year in the United States alone. They affect many industries e.g. the oil and gas industry, water utilities and power plants. Biological organisms suspended in pipeline flow which scratch surfaces and biofouling are also major issues in the oil and gas industry and biofilms are often the culprit.
Biofilms are becoming increasingly problematic due to the widespread practice of enhanced oil recovery, usually by water injection. Fresh water is not used in oil production because it is a scarce resource. Instead, seawater is often injected alongside water recovered during oil production. Seawater contains nutrients (e.g. organic carbons) and oxidants (e.g. sulphates) and also various microbes including sulphate reducing bacteria. Oxygen is typically removed from seawater by nitrogen gas stripping and oxygen scavengers. To prevent MIC and reservoir souring, seawater is sometimes treated with biocides. Huge amounts of biocides are needed because the volume of treated seawater is massive. For example, Saudi Aramco’s Qurayyah Seawater Treatment Plant has a capacity of 14 million barrels of treated seawater for oil production throughout the kingdom.
Further reading on biofilms in the oil industry
Kathy Riggs Larsen. Diagnosing Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion in a Pipeline. Materials performance, 2020. https://www.materialsperformance.com/articles/material-selection-design/2014/12/diagnosing-microbiologically-influenced-corrosion-in-a-pipeline.
Dake Xu and Tingyue Gu. The War against Problematic Biofilms in the Oil and Gas Industry. Journal of Microbial & Biochemical Technology, 2015. DOI: 10.4172/1948-5948.1000e124.
Lenhart TR, Duncan KE, Beech IB, Sunner JA, Smith W, Bonifay V, Biri B, Suflita JM. Identification and characterization of microbial biofilm communities associated with corroded oil pipeline surfaces. Biofouling. 2014;30(7):823-35. DOI: 1080/08927014.2014.931379.
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