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Fate and identification of oil-brine contamination in different hydrogeologic settings

January 1, 2007

Past disposal of oil-field brine at the surface has caused substantial contamination of water resources in Kansas. Natural saline water occurs in and discharges from Permian bedrock in parts of the state, and other anthropogenic sources of saline water exist, requiring clear identification of different sources. Time-series analysis of Cl- concentration and streamflow relative to pre-contamination contents, and end-member mixing plots, especially for Br- and Cl-, are practical methods for source differentiation and quantification. Although regulations preventing escape of saltwater from oil wells were first passed in Kansas in 1935, much oil and gas brine was disposed on the surface through the 1940s. Hydrogeologic characteristics of the areas with past surface disposal of oil brine differ appreciably and result in large differences in the ratio of saltwater transported in streams or ground water. Much of the brine disposed during the 1910s to 1940s in an area of silty clay soils overlying shale and limestone bedrock in south-central Kansas soon ran off or was flushed from the surface by rain into streams. Chloride concentration in the rivers draining this area often exceeded 1000 mg/L after the start of oil production up to the 1950s. Chloride content in the rivers then generally declined to about 100 mg/L or less in recent low flows. Oil brine was also disposed in surface ponds overlying the unconsolidated High Plains aquifer in south-central Kansas from the latter 1920s into the 1940s. Most of the surface-disposed brine infiltrated to the underlying aquifer. Where the High Plains aquifer is thin, saltwater has migrated along the top of clay layers or the underlying shaly bedrock and either discharged into small streams or flowed into thicker parts of the aquifer. Where the aquifer is thick, surface-disposed oil brine moved downward until reaching clay lenses, migrated latterly to the edge of the clay, and again moved downward if still dense enough. Water-level declines from pumping have increased the lateral migration rate of the saltwater contamination in the aquifer towards water-supply wells. The period of flushing most of the surface-disposed saltwater from the area of shale and limestone bedrock is on the order of many decades but is at least many centuries for the deeper parts of the High Plains aquifer. ?? 2007 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication Year 2007
Title Fate and identification of oil-brine contamination in different hydrogeologic settings
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2007.04.002
Authors Donald O. Whittemore
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Geochemistry
Index ID 70031545
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse