Occurrence and biodegradation of hydrocarbons at high salinities

Charbel Abou Khalil, Victoria L. Prince, Roger C. Prince, Charles W. Greer, Kenneth Lee, Baiyu Zhang, Michel C. Boufadel

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Hypersaline environments are found around the world, above and below ground, and many are exposed to hydrocarbons on a continuous or a frequent basis. Some surface hypersaline environments are exposed to hydrocarbons because they have active petroleum seeps while others are exposed because of oil exploration and production, or nearby human activities. Many oil reservoirs overlie highly saline connate water, and some national oil reserves are stored in salt caverns. Surface hypersaline ecosystems contain consortia of halophilic and halotolerant microorganisms that decompose organic compounds including hydrocarbons, and subterranean ones are likely to contain the same. However, the rates and extents of hydrocarbon biodegradation are poorly understood in such ecosystems. Here we describe hypersaline environments potentially or likely to become contaminated with hydrocarbons, including perennial and transient environments above and below ground, and discuss what is known about the microbes degrading hydrocarbons and the extent of their activities. We also discuss what limits the microbial hydrocarbon degradation in hypersaline environments and whether there are opportunities for inhibiting (oil storage) or stimulating (oil spills) such biodegradation as the situation requires.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number143165
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 25 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


  • Brine pools
  • Halophiles
  • Hypersaline Lakes
  • Oil reservoirs
  • Oil-storage caverns
  • Shorelines


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