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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


Environmental impacts of petroleum production: The fate of petroleum and other organics associated with produced water from the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research sites, Osage County, OK

Frances D. Hostettler
Yousif K. Kharaka
Edward M. Godsy
U. S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, CA 94025

Presented at the 9th International Petroleum Environmental Conference
Special Session: Fate And Transport Of Brine And Hydrocarbon
Releases In Soils and Water, Northeast Oklahoma
Albuquerque, New Mexico, October 22-25, 2002

Full Text of the Paper (pdf file 1.65 MB)


We are involved in a multidisciplinary investigation to study the transport, fate, and natural attenuation of inorganic salts, trace metals, radionuclides and organic compounds present in produced water, and their impacts on soil, surface and ground water and the local ecosystem at the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research (OSPER) A and B sites, located in Osage County, OK. About one hectare of land at each of the OSPER A and B sites is affected by salt scarring, soil salinization and brine and petroleum contamination. The main environmental concern results because the sites are adjacent to Skiatook Lake, a 4250-hectare reservoir that provides drinking water to the local communities and is a major recreational fishery. Petroleum wells and tank batteries at the A site have been inactive for some time and the bulk of the hydrocarbon (now degraded and weathered oil) and produced water releases occurred more than 60 years ago. One pit at this site however, contains relatively fresh asphaltic oil and high salinity brine. The B site includes an active production tank battery and adjacent brine and oil pit, an inactive tank battery and an injection well with a small brine pit.

For this study oil, gas and/or brine samples were obtained from several oil wells at the B site and areas adjoining the A and B sites, from the two active brine pits at the B site, from the asphaltic pit and adjacent weathered oil pit at the A site and from several of the 40 boreholes (1-71 m deep), recently drilled and completed. Water samples for dissolved organics were obtained from selected boreholes with high salinity water and measurable hydrocarbon gases in the unsaturated zone. Soil and rock core samples were obtained from these selected boreholes to determine the amount and composition of oil sorbed onto the sediments. Finally samples of sediments and/or water from these selected boreholes and from the brine and oil pits were obtained for bacterial characterization.

Chemical analysis and bacterial determinations on the collected samples are continuing. Results completed to date show the crude oil source (samples from B and adjacent production wells) is a typical paraffinic-naphthenic light (API gravity of ~35) oil, containing n-alkanes as the dominant components. The four samples examined are identical in their maturity and chemical characteristics. Even though petroleum production is from shallow sandstones (300-600 m depth), these fresh oils show no sign of biodegradation, indicating that bacteria are unable to survive in the associated high salinity (~150,000 mg/L total dissolved solids) brine. Bacterial action, volatilization and water washing are likely responsible for the transformation of source oil to the surficial asphaltic and weathered oil observed at the A site. The leakage of oil with brine from the main active pit at the B site is indicated by the detection of a thin, but discrete oil phase in at least one borehole, the presence of hydrocarbon gases in several boreholes and the smell of oil in many sediment cores from the impacted area located down gradient from this pit. The measured concentrations of DOC, acetate and other organic acid anions, BTEX, phenols and other organics in the source brine are relatively low, but their values in water samples from the impacted areas are not yet available

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