Plugging of a model rock system by using starved bacteria

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The effects of starvation on bacterial penetration through artificial rock cores were examined. Klebsiella pneumoniae was starved in a simple salts solution for a duration of up to 4 weeks. These cell suspensions were injected into sintered glass bead cores, and the resulting reductions in core permeabilities were recorded. Vegetative cell cultures of K. pneumoniae grown in a sodium citrate medium were injected into other, similar cores, and the reductions in core permeabilities were recorded. The starved cell suspensions did not completely block the core pores, whereas the vegetative cultures reduced core permeability to less than 1%. Scanning electron microscopy of core sections infiltrated with either vegetative or starved cells showed that the former produced shallow "skin" plugs and copious amounts of glycocalyx at the inlet face, whereas the latter produced very little glycocalyx and the cells were distributed evenly throughout the length of the core. The use of a DNA assay to produce a cell distribution profile showed that, compared with the vegetative cells, starved bacteria were able to penetrate deeper into the cores. This was due to the smaller size of the cells and the reduction in biofilm production. This ability of starved bacteria to penetrate further into cores than the normal-size vegetative cells can be usefully applied to selective plugging for enhanced oil recovery. To further test the suitability of starved cells for use in selective plugging, the activities of starved cells present within cores were monitored before and after nutrient stimulation. Our data indicate that with nutrient stimulation, the starved cells lose their metabolic dormancy and produce reductions in core permeability due to cell growth and polymer production.




Macleod FA, Lappin-scott HM, Costerton JW, "Plugging of a model rock system by using starved bacteria," Applied and Environmental Microbiology 1988 54(6):1365-1372
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