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Environmental Health - Toxic Substances


Hydrologic Controls on the Subsurface Transport of Oil-Field Brine at the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research (OSPER) B Site, Oklahoma

William N. Herkelrath
Yousif K. Kharaka
U.S. Geological Survey
Menlo Park, CA

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 .6 MB)


As a part of a multidisciplinary study of the impact of oil wells and oil production on the environment, we are investigating the hydrology of the OSPER B site, which is located at Skiatook Lake in Osage County, Oklahoma. Salt and crude oil from oil well brine pits and accidental releases from oil tank batteries have contaminated soil, ground water, and surface water at this site. Preliminary coring near a brine pit at the site showed that beneath 0.5-2 meters of surficial deposits (fill, soil, colluvium, and alluvium), a layer of tight shale that is at least 6 meters thick underlies the site. The land slopes down from the pit at about a 1:10 slope to the lake, which is located about 20 meters from the pit.

We found no evidence to date that the brine has penetrated into the shale. Field cores and water level measurements in boreholes indicated that the surficial deposits were often saturated above the shale, which was powder dry. We hypothesize that water from precipitation infiltrates into the permeable surficial deposits, ponds above the low-permeability shale, and moves laterally toward the lake in the surface layer. Dissolved salt from prior spills present in the surface layer is transported down slope to the lake during and following precipitation events. Chemical analyses of water samples collected from boreholes indicate that salt water that collects in the brine pit also moves into the surface layer and flows to the lake. Overland flow and transport of brine also occurs in response to intense rainfall events. Evapotranspiration concentrates the subsurface brine in dry periods. Our field work indicates that the surfacial deposits are very heterogeneous, and as a result there are preferential pathways for subsurface transport of water and contaminants from the pit to the lake. Our results indicate that near-surface, transient processes dominate the contaminant hydrology at this site.

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