The accumulation of biopolymers in porous media, produced by stimulating either indigenous bacteria or artificially introduced microbes, readily blocks pore throats and can effectively reduce bulk permeability. Such a microbial clogging treatment can be used for selective plugging of permeable zones in reservoirs and is considered a potentially promising approach to enhance sweep efficiency for microbial enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). Monitoring in situ microbial growth, biopolymer formation, and permeability reduction in the reservoir is critical for successful application of this MEOR approach. We examined the feasibility of using seismic signatures (P-wave velocity and attenuation) for monitoring the in situ accumulation of insoluble biopolymers in unconsolidated sediments. Column experiments, which involved stimulating the sucrose metabolism of Leuconostoc mesenteroides and production of the biopolymer dextran, were performed while monitoring changes in permeability and seismic response using the ultrasonic pulse transmission method. We observed that L. mesenteroides produced a viscous biopolymer in sucrose-rich media. Accumulated dextran, occupying 4%–6% pore volume after 20 days of growth, reduced permeability more than one order of magnitude. A negligible change in P-wave velocity was observed, indicating no or minimal change in compressive stiffness of the unconsolidated sediment during biopolymer formation. The amplitude of the P-wave signals decreased 80% after 20 days of biopolymer production; spectral ratio analysis in the 0.4–0.8-MHz band showed an approximate 30%–50% increase in P-wave attenuation (1/QP) due to biopolymer production. A flow-induced loss mechanism related to the combined grain/biopolymer structure appeared to be the most plausible mechanism for causing the observed increase in P-wave attenuation in the ultrasonic frequency range. Because permeability reduction is also closely linked to biopolymer volume, P-wave attenuation in the ultrasonic frequency range appears to be an effective indicator for monitoring in situ biopolymer accumulation and permeability reduction and could provide a useful proxy for regions with altered transport properties.

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