Hydrocarbon REMediation

Bustling industrial activity in Alberta in the past decades has left a legacy of environmental contamination by hydrocarbons and other chemicals1. Indeed, according to the Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory, there are more than 1,000 contaminated sites in Alberta, almost half of which (46%) are impacted by hydrocarbon compounds (BTEX, PAH and others)2. These sites are often located in remote and/or sensitive locations and thus, in order to minimize the cost of remediation and the disturbance of the surrounding ecosystem, desirable methods must preferably be capable of removing contaminants in-situ, and within a reasonable timeframe. To that purpose, (bio)remediation technologies, are a viable solution.  However, assessment of their effectiveness is typically based on bulk parameters, such as TPH yields (total petroleum hydrocarbons), decrease of which is generally accepted to be the evidence of complete mineralization of hydrocarbon pollution. The problem is that this approach cannot capture the full molecular complexity of tens of thousands of hydrocarbon and non-hydrocarbon (analogs containing at least one heteroatom such as nitrogen, sulphur and oxygen) petroleum species and also fails to account for transfer of one pollutant type (e.g. a hydrocarbon), to another (e.g. a hydroxylated or carboxylated compound), during degradation.

Conveniently, recent technological advancements, such the ultrahigh resolution Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS), now permit a comprehensive molecular characterization of petroleum and environmental samples using “petroleomics” and “lipidomics” approaches. Our group used FTICR-MS petroleomics methods to study the composition of petroleum, and its anaerobic and aerobic biodegradation, which revealed that many hydrocarbons and non-hydrocarbons are actually transformed by hydroxyl and/or carboxyl formation, rather than completely mineralized3. Furthermore, we developed a lipidomics method for microbial biomarkers in environmental samples4. Thus, our FTICR-MS “–omics” capabilities can contribute to better understanding of pathways, parameters, and metabolites involved in petroleum degradation, and improved effectiveness of (bio)remediation technologies for hydrocarbons.  


(1) Radović, J. R.; Oldenburg, T. B. P.; Larter, S. R. In Oil Spill Environmental Forensics Case Studies, Wang, Z., Ed.; Butterworth-Heinemann, 2018, pp 401-417.

(2) Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, Federal Contaminated Sites Inventory; 2018.

(3) Oldenburg, T. B. P.; Jones, M.; Huang, H.; Bennett, B.; Shafiee, N. S.; Head, I.; Larter, S. R. Organic Geochemistry 2017, 114, 57-80.

(4) Radović, J. R.; Silva, R. C.; Snowdon, R. W.; Brown, M.; Larter, S.; Oldenburg, T. B. P. Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry 2016, 30, 1273-1282.