Lecture Series: Biosciences for Oil and Gas

An overview from Dr Kirsty Salmon

Dr Kirsty Salmon

Dr Kirsty Salmon from BP delivered the third ICAM webinar of 2017 on the topic of biosciences applications for the oil and gas industry.

The BP Biosciences Center (BSC), located in San Diego, is part of BP’s Group Research in Group Technology. The BSC, which comprises of 31 scientists and engineers, was formed in May 2015 and is strategically important in growing BP’s bioscience capability.

The remit of the BSC is to support and provide assistance to BP’s businesses that operate biological processes, as well as to identify how the biosciences can add value to existing businesses, and then implement relevant research and development programs. Two areas where biology plays an important role in BP’s businesses are biosouring and wastewater, and these were discussed in this ICAM Webinar.

With respect to souring, the production of hydrogen sulfide in oil wells is a common problem in the oil industry – this can lead to margin erosion due to the higher concentrations of sulfur and increased CAPEX to mitigate corrosion. Around 60% of BP’s production is under seawater flood and is considered at some degree of risk of souring. Microorganisms in the subsurface are the major source of hydrogen sulfide generation in the field. The biosciences team applies microbial consortium studies, metagenomics and data mining approaches to provide insights into which microorganisms are responsible for hydrogen sulfide formation in the oil wells and to spur development into mitigation and prevention methods.

In an example of wastewater challenges, BP’s Purified Terephthalic Acid (PTA) wastewater is treated using an anaerobic digestion process which uses a complex consortia of microorganisms, including methanogens. There are significant challenges to processes such as this including microbial consortia health which could lead to insufficient pollutant removal. Metagenomics analyses are performed to address which microorganisms degrade the aromatic compounds in the PTA WWT process and how to use this information to improve the process.

Dr Kirsty Salmon is the leader of the BP Biosciences Team in San Diego. Kirsty joined BP in 2011 as the Head of Research for the BP Biofuels Global Technology Center that focused on the development of a GEN2 lignocellulosic ethanol platform.

Dr Salmon completed her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and her postdoctoral research in microbial physiology in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at UCLA. Prior to working at BP, Dr Salmon held positions as the Director of Renewable Fuels at Verdezyne, Inc. (Carlsabad, CA) and a faculty research position at UC Irvine.