Biogeochemical controls on source zone depletion at petrochemical sites

Started: October 2018

Supervisor: Dr Adrian Butler, Dr Geoff Fowler

Industry Partner: CSIRO Australia

Description of Research

Petroleum impacted sites have varied and complex sources of contamination in their underlying soil and groundwater, which pose a risk to off-site receptors and a cost for a company to treat. Engineered methods for reducing the mass of petroleum products can remove substantial amounts but this declines substantially over time. In addition, there are microorganisms, present in the subsurface, that can degrade organic compounds through metabolic processes. This natural attenuation (NA) becomes increasingly important over time, as products weather. The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia is working with the petroleum industry in Western Australia on the long term management of oil spills and releases into the subsurface. The aim is to quantify the role of NA as a mechanism for the long-term depletion of crude oil and refinery products.

 A comprehensive programme (over 3-5 years) of site investigation and monitoring is just getting underway to compile a detailed database on the physical, chemical and biological processes which are believed to control NA. Research will focus on microbial processes, such as bacterial chemotaxis and will involve genetic analysis of soil cores and laboratory work studying various biodegradation processes.