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Research Could Lead to Improved Oil Recovery, Better Environmental Cleanup

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Researchers have taken a new look at an old, but seldom-used technique developed by the petroleum industry to recover oil, and learned more about why it works, how it could be improved, and how it might be able to make a comeback not only in oil recovery but also environmental cleanup.

The technology, called “microbial enhanced oil recovery,” was first developed decades ago, but oil drillers largely lost interest in it due to its cost, inconsistent results and a poor understanding of what was actually happening underground.

The new findings by engineers at Oregon State University, published in the Journal of Petroleum Science and Engineering, could help change that. This may allow the oil industry not only to produce more oil from their existing wells, but also find applications in cleaning up petroleum spills and contaminants.

“This approach of using microbes to increase oil recovery was used somewhat in the 1980s when oil prices were very high, but the field results weren’t very consistent and it was expensive,” said Dorthe Wildenschild, an associate professor in the OSU School of Chemical, Biological and Environmental Engineering. “It’s seldom used now as a result.”

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