Oil field produced water (OFPW) is widely produced in large volumes around the world. Transforming the organic matter in OFPW into bioenergy, such as biomethane, is one promising way to sustainability. However, OFPW is difficult to biologically degrade because it contains complex compounds such as naphthenic acids (NAs), or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Although active microbial communities have been found in many oil reservoirs, little is known about how an exotic microbiome, e.g. the one which originates from municipal wastewater treatment plants, would evolve when incubated with OFPW.
In this study, we harvested methanogenic biomass from two sources: a full-scale anaerobic digester (AD) treating oil and gas processing wastewater (named O&G sludge), and from a full-scale AD reactor treating multiple fractions of municipal solid wastes (named MS, short for mixed sludge). Both were incubated in replicate microcosms fed with PAHs, NAs, or OFPW. The results showed that the PAHs, NAs, and OFPW feeds could rapidly alter the methanogenic microbiomes, even after 14 days, while the O&G sludge adapted faster than the mixed sludge in all the incubations. Two rarely reported microorganisms, a hydrogenotrophic methanogen Candidatus methanoregula and a saccharolytic fermenter Kosmotoga, were found to be prevalent in the PAHs and OFPW microcosms, and are likely to play an important role in the syntrophic degradation of PAHs and OFPW, cooperating with methanogens such as Methanoregula, Methanosarcina, or Methanobacterium.
The dominant phyla varied in certain patterns during the incubations, depending on the biomass source, feed type, and variation in nutrients. The sludge that originated from the oil and gas processing wastewater treatment (O&G) reactor adapted faster than the one from municipal solid waste reactors, almost certainly because the O&G biomass had been "pre-selected" by the environment. This study reveals the importance of biomass selection for other crude oil-waste-related bioengineering studies, such as bioaugmentation and bioremediation.