The development of antibodies to low molecular weight haptens remains challenging due to both the low immunogenicity of many haptens and the cross-reactivity of the protein carriers used to generate the immune response. Recombinant antibodies and novel display technologies have greatly advanced antibody development; however, new techniques are still required to select rare hapten-specific antibodies from large recombinant libraries. In the present study, we used a combination of phage and yeast display to screen an immune antibody library (size, 4.4 x 106) against hapten markers for petroleum contamination (phenanthrene and methylphenanthrenes). Selection via phage display was used first to enrich the library between 20 and 100-fold for clones that bound to phenanthrene-protein conjugates. The enriched libraries were subsequently transferred to a yeast display system and a newly developed competitive FACS procedure was employed to select rare hapten-specific clones. Competitive FACS increased the frequency of hapten-specific scFvs in our yeast-displayed scFvs from 0.025-0.005% in the original library to between 13-35% in selected pools. The presence of hapten-specific scFvs was confirmed by competitive ELISA using periplasmic protein. Three distinct antibody clones that recognize phenanthrene and/or methylphenanthrenes were selected and their distinctive binding properties were characterized. To our knowledge, these are first antibodies that can distinguish between methylated (petrogenic) versus unmethylated (pyrogenic) phenanthrenes; such antibodies will be useful in detecting the sources of environmental contamination. This selection method could be generally adopted in the selection of other hapten-specific recombinant antibodies.