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Genomics expertise could solve critical oil and gas puzzle

Genome Alberta brings together industry and academics for a microbial influenced corrosion workshop
July 4, 2014
Discussion group at the Genome Alberta Microbial Influenced Corrosion Workshop. Photo by Mike Spear, Genome Alberta

Discussion group at the Genome Alberta Microbial Influenced Corrosion Workshop. Photo by Mike Spear, Genome Alberta

At a June 16 workshop, University of Calgary scholars met with representatives from the oil and gas industry to discuss the production challenges they face due to microbial influenced corrosion (MIC). The groups were brought together by Genome Alberta to take the first steps towards developing new approaches to managing the impact of MIC and preventing it in the future.

“Microbial influenced corrosion is an oil and gas industry challenge that costs hundreds of millions of dollars,” says Andrew Stephens of the Genome Alberta board of directors. “The industry has found biologic activity that can influence the rate of corrosion in their pipes, so by understanding what the biologic activity is, they can then seek ways to control it and reduce corrosion.” Addressing corrosion reduces the risk of environmental contamination due to spills, unnecessary expenses associated with repairs, and lost revenue because of equipment downtime.

The groups in attendance were tasked with determining how academia can gear their research efforts toward industry needs. “Having these partnerships with industry and the Petroleum Technology Alliance of Canada (PTAC) helps drive relevant research,” says Lisa Gieg, assistant professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. “A major gap is knowing what kind of microbes are causing corrosion, so one of the objectives is to assess what is there and what they might be doing. Do you see the same microbes over and over, or is every situation unique? This knowledge will contribute a lot to our understanding in the area of MIC.”

University boasts world-class genomics expertise

University of Calgary scientists will play a critical role in advancing genome research related to the energy industry. “In the last couple of years the University of Calgary has had a real focus on attracting world-class talent for the study of genomics, and we’re very pleased that they’ve taken this on as a priority,” says Stephens. “By partnering with the university, Genome Alberta gets access to this world-class talent to help us solve real world problems.”

Solving these problems will require a multidisciplinary team of researchers to investigate both the fundamental and applied science involved. “We have the ability to answer any kind of question. These kind of analyses require us to look at problems from multiple perspectives including chemistry, microbiology, genomics, and engineering,” says Gieg. “At the university we have a lot of exceptional researchers with genomics as a common interest, and we’re also very well set up in terms of infrastructure.”

The University of Calgary and Genome Alberta will use the information gathered at the workshop to apply for Genomic Applications Partnership funding from Genome Canada. “This funding is provided to organizations like Genome Alberta to fund downstream research and development projects that are driven by challenges and opportunities facing users of genomics,” says Stephens. The group believes that the provincial and international impact of MIC on the energy industry makes their research an ideal fit for this funding, and will tailor their application to emphasize their drive to address this critical issue.  

Stephens and Gieg are both optimistic about the potential outcomes of the work ahead. “There was a lot of commonality between industry and academia, and a good spirit of collaboration and co-operation,” says Stephens. “I think that bodes really well for advancing the activities in this area and finding meaningful solutions to this challenging issue."