Environmental Earth Sciences

, 76:828 | Cite as

Profiling of dissolved organic compounds in the oil sands region using complimentary liquid–liquid extraction and ultrahigh resolution Fourier transform mass spectrometry

  • Yi YiEmail author
  • Jun Han
  • S. Jean Birks
  • Christoph H. Borchers
  • John J. Gibson
Original Article


Understanding and characterizing organics in aquatic environments is a great challenge for environmental monitoring, especially for the oil sands industry due to the complexity and potential toxicity of dissolved organics in water. To date, significant efforts have been made in investigating the toxicity of naphthenic acids, although other compounds may also contribute to the toxicity of oil sands process-affected water (OSPW). Here, we present a case study showing a systematic approach for profiling the organic composition of OSPW and environmental water samples by concentrating and separating dissolved organics through complementary liquid–liquid extractions followed by positive- or negative-ion mode ultrahigh resolution mass detection. Our comparative investigation shows clear differences in the composition of dissolved organics (homologues particularly) not only between OSPW samples and environmental water samples, but also differences among oil sands operators. Sulfur-containing compounds (especially the SO n classes) appear to have great potential to be used for evaluating the impact of OSPW, while our understanding of oxygen-only containing compounds should not be limited to O2 (i.e., classic naphthenic acids), but rather can be broadened to include many other compound classes (for instance O n , n = 1–9). Systematic profiling of water samples should be more widely implemented for monitoring the origin and transport of organics in aquatic ecosystems of the oil sands development region, northeastern Alberta, Canada.


Environmental forensics Fourier transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry (FTICR-MS) Oil sands Alberta 



Research funding for sample collection and FTICR-MS measurements was provided by InnoTech Alberta (formerly Alberta Innovates Technology Futures), Alberta Environment and OSRIN (Oil Sands Research Information Network). The University of Victoria—Genome BC Proteomics Centre—is supported by Genome Canada, Genome British Columbia and Genome Alberta through grants for “Science & Technology Innovation Centre (S&TIC)” in proteomics and partially through “The Metabolomics Innovation Centre (TMIC)” in metabolomics. We especially thank Drs. Roger Foxall and Preston McEachern for championing the application of new methods for OSPW tracing, and Dr. Carol E. Parker for helpful comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

12665_2017_7161_MOESM1_ESM.docx (150 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 150 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.InnoTech AlbertaVancouver Island Technology ParkVictoriaCanada
  2. 2.Department of GeographyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  3. 3.University of Victoria - Genome BC Proteomics CentreVancouver Island Technology ParkVictoriaCanada
  4. 4.InnoTech AlbertaCalgaryCanada
  5. 5.Department of Biochemistry and MicrobiologyUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada
  6. 6.Environmental Monitoring and Science DivisionAlberta Environment and ParksEdmontonCanada

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