Bacterial seal of approval: gas and oil pipe leak repair with biofilms

Researchers from Montana State University (MSU) recently developed a technique to seal fractures in oil and gas pipes, using biofilm-forming bacteria.

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Tiny fractures in cement wells and pipes are hard to detect or repair, but can cause leaking of gas or oil into the environment.

The MSU Center for Biofilm Engineering team, led by Adrienne Phillips, employed ureolytic biofilm-forming bacteria, such as Sporosarcina pasteurii. In the presence of calcium, these bacteria hydrolyze urea and form crystals of calcium carbonate (calcite), that can clog small fractures in cement pipes and wells.

Phillips and her team successfully injected Sporosarcina pasteurii into a test well more than 1000 feet underground to repair microscopic fractures in the well casing.

In an industrial setting, leaking well casings can result in hydrocarbons, drilling fluids and other substances being released into adjacent rock strata and groundwater. Leaked gases, including methane, the main component of natural gas, can migrate to the surface and become airborne. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, so methods to contain it are increasingly sought after, Phillips said. "It's exciting to work on a problem that people care about," Phillips said. "We're addressing an environmental problem of international concern."

Read more here:

MSU team shows biofilm and mineral-producing bacteria have potential for plugging oil and gas leaks - Marshall Swearingen for the MSU News Service

MSU team reaches milestone toward commercialization of fracture sealing process - Montana State University

Adrienne Phillips and Robin Gerlach at the Center for Biofilm Engineering at MSU

Elisabeth M. Bik

Science Editor, uBiome

After receiving my PhD at Utrecht University in The Netherlands, I worked at the Dutch National Institute for Health and the St. Antonius Hospital in Nieuwegein. From 2001-2016 I worked in the laboratory of David Relman at Stanford University, where I have worked on the characterization of human oral, gastric, and intestinal microbiotas, and that of marine mammals. In 2016 I joined uBiome where we allow citizen scientists to sequence their microbiome. I also run Microbiome Digest,, an almost daily compilation of scientific papers in the rapidly growing microbiome field, tweet on Twitter as @MicrobiomDigest, and scan published papers for image manipulation.