Bicyclic naphthenic acids in oil sands process water: Identification by comprehensive multidimensional gas chromatography–mass spectrometry

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Authors: Michael J. Wilde, Charles E. West, Alan G. Scarlett, David Jones, Richard A. Frank, L. Mark Hewitt, Steven J. Rowland


Although bicyclic acids have been reported to be the major naphthenic acids in oil sands process-affected water (OSPW) and a well-accepted screening assay indicated that some bicyclics were the most acutely toxic acids tested, none have yet been identified. Here we show by comprehensive multidimensional gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC × GC–MS), that >100 C8–15 bicyclic acids are typically present in OSPW. Synthesis or purchase allowed us to establish the GC × GC retention times of methyl esters of numerous of these and the mass spectra and published spectra of some additional types, allowed us to identify bicyclo[2.2.1]heptane, bicyclo[3.2.1]octane, bicyclo[4.3.0]nonane, bicyclo[3.3.1]nonane and bicyclo[4.4.0]decane acids in OSPW and a bicyclo[2.2.2]octane acid in a commercial acid mixture. The retention positions of authentic bicyclo[3.3.0]octane and bicyclo[4.2.0]octane carboxylic acid methyl esters and published retention indices, showed these were also possibilities, as were bicyclo[3.1.1]heptane acids. Bicyclo[5.3.0]decane and cyclopentylcyclopentane carboxylic acids were ruled out in the samples analysed, on the basis that the corresponding alkanes eluted well after bicyclo[4.4.0]decane (latest eluting acids). Bicyclo[4.2.1]nonane, bicyclo[3.2.2]nonane, bicyclo[3.3.2]decane, bicyclo[4.2.2]decane and spiro[4.5]decane carboxylic acids could not be ruled out or in, as no authentic compounds or literature data were available. Mass spectra of the methyl esters of the higher bicyclic C12–15 acids suggested that many were simply analogues of the acids identified above, with longer alkanoate chains and/or alkyl substituents. Our hypothesis is that these acids represent the biotransformation products of the initially somewhat more bio-resistant bicyclanes of petroleum. Although remediation studies suggest that many bicyclic acids can be relatively quickly removed from suitably treated OSPW, examination by GC × GC–MS may show which isomers are affected most. Knowledge of the structures will allow the toxicity of any residual isomers to be calculated and measured.

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