Environmental Health - Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

Crude Oil Contamination in the Shallow Subsurface—Bemidji, Minnesota

Aerial view of surface oil contamination from the pipeline rupture at the Bemidji
Aerial view of surface oil contamination from the pipeline rupture at the Bemidji Crude Oil Spill Research Site, Minnesota (circa 1979). Much of the black area was caused by oil spraying from the rupture.

This investigation provides the science needed to understand how to economically and effectively minimize the health risks due to environmental exposures caused by fuel and oil spills in the United States.

This long-term investigation has provided an understanding of the mobilization, transport, and fate of crude oil in the shallow subsurface following accidental releases to understand the time-frame required for natural attenuation. Understanding processes and properties controlling the fate, transport, and natural attenuation of petroleum products following a spill are important to understanding the actual versus perceived risks to humans and other organisms through exposure to the contaminants associated with the spills.

The foundational work for this investigation was accomplished at the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bemidji Crude-Oil Spill Research Site, Minnesota. This site was ideally suited for the initiation of the investigation because a pipeline rupture in 1979 contaminated a shallow aquifer providing a unique opportunity to study a contaminant plume where the location, amount, and timing of the spill were precisely known.

News

Three scientists holding a sediment core. The core is in a plastic tube

Program Scientist Receives Meritorious Service Award

Dr. Isabelle M. Cozzarelli received the U.S. Department of Interior's second highest honorary award—the Meritorious Service Award—for her numerous contributions to understanding the biogeochemical controls of contaminant degradation in groundwater and near-surface environments. ...

USGS scientists collecting a water sample from a well at the USGS Bemidji Research Site

U.S. Geological Survey Identifies Crude-Oil Metabolites in Subsurface Plumes

USGS scientists studying two subsurface crude-oil spill sites in Minnesota measured concentrations of oil breakdown products (metabolites) at greater concentrations than parent compound concentrations. ...

A scientist collects a groundwater sample with a syringe

Ethanol-Containing Fuel Spills Enhanced Natural Trace Element Release from Sediments in an Experimental Setting

Experimental field research simulating hydrocarbon spills by researchers from the USGS, Virginia Tech, and the University of St. Thomas showed that mixed ethanol and petroleum-based fuels increased the rate by which arsenic and other natural trace elements are released from aquifer sediments to groundwater when compared to petroleum-based fuels alone. ...

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USGS scientists collecting a water sample from a well at the USGS Bemidji Research Site
U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists collecting a groundwater sample from a well at the USGS Bemidji Crude-Oil Spill Research Site, Minnesota. The scientists monitored in real time the dissolved oxygen, pH, specific conductance, and temperature of the water as the well is pumped so they can know when to collect a representative sample. Photo Credit: Jared Trost, USGS

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USGS scientists collecting water-qualty samples from observation wells

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A scientist collects a groundwater sample with a syringe

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Page Last Modified: June 16 2017