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Environmental impacts of petroleum production--Initial results from the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research Sites, Osage County, Oklahoma

January 1, 1994

Exploration for and production of petroleum have caused major detrimental impacts to soils, surface and ground waters, and the local ecosystems in the United States. These impacts arise primarily from the improper disposal of large volumes of saline water produced with oil and gas, from accidental hydrocarbon and produced water releases, and from abandoned oil wells that were not correctly sealed. It is important to understand the long-term and short-term effects of produced water and hydrocarbon releases from these sites in order to develop risk-based remediation plans. Remediation is particularly needed in aging and depleted fields where land use is changing from petroleum production to residential, agricultural or recreational uses. About 20 scientists from the USGS and other governmental agencies and academia are involved in a multidisciplinary investigation to study the transport, fate, and natural attenuation of inorganic salts, trace metals, organic compounds and radionuclides present in produced water, and their impacts at the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research (OSPER) 'A' and 'B' sites, located on the Osage Reservation in Osage County, Oklahoma. Stakeholders in the project include the Osage Nation, which holds the mineral rights, the Bureau of Indian Affairs with trust responsibility, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the surface rights at these sites and manages adjacent Skiatook Lake. The 4250-hectare Skiatook Lake provides drinking water to local Tulsa suburban communities and a rural water district, and offers recreational fishing and boating opportunities to tens of thousands of visitors each year. Approximately 1.5 and 1.0 hectare of land at the OSPER 'A' (depleted Lester lease) and 'B' (active Branstetter lease) sites, respectively, are affected by salt scarring, tree kills, soil salinization and brine and petroleum contamination due to the leakage of produced water and associated hydrocarbons from brine pits and accidental releases from active and inactive pipes and tank batteries. The leases are typical of many depleted and aging petroleum fields in Osage County, which ranks among the top oil and gas producing counties in Oklahoma with about 39,000 wells. Oil and gas production has occurred in Osage county for over one hundred years, but current production is mainly from stripper wells (averaging ~2.8 bbl/d oil and >30 bbl/d brine) that are shallow, mostly 300-700 m in depth, and produce from several sandstones of Pennsylvanian age. Results to date show that the produced water source is a Na-Ca-Cl brine (~150,000 mg/L total dissolved solids), with relatively high concentrations of Mg, Sr, and NH4, but low SO4 and H2S. With the exception of Fe and Mn, the concentrations of trace metals are low. Results also show that some and, eventually, the bulk, of inorganic salts and some dissolved organic species in the released brine from both sites will reach Skiatook Lake. Results at the 'A' site show that the salts have essentially been removed from the sandy soil which formed in a surficial layer of eolian sand, but degraded and weathered oil persists on the surface of old oil and brine pits, close to sites of old tanks, on old channels that carried oil from tanks to the oil pits and other impacted areas. Results also show a plume of high salinity water (5,000-30,600 mg/L TDS) is present at intermediate depths that extend from below the old oil and brine pits to Skiatook Lake. No liquid petroleum was found in the contaminated groundwater, but soluble petroleum byproducts, including organic acid anions and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are present. Results to date clearly show that significant amounts of salts from produced-water releases and petroleum hydrocarbons still remain in the soils and rocks of the impacted area after more than 60 years of natural attenuation. 

Citation Information

Publication Year 2003
Title Environmental impacts of petroleum production--Initial results from the Osage-Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research Sites, Osage County, Oklahoma
DOI 10.3133/wri034260
Authors Yousif K. Kharaka, James K. Otton
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 2003-4260
Index ID wri034260
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program

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