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Weathering of oil in a surficial aquifer

September 14, 2018

The composition of crude oil in a surficial aquifer was determined in two locations at the Bemidji, MN, spill site. The abundances of 71 individual hydrocarbons varied within 16 locations sampled. Little depletion of these hydrocarbons (relative to the pipeline oil) occurred in the first 10 years after the spill, whereas losses of 25% to 85% of the total measured hydrocarbons occurred after 30 years. The C6‐30 n‐alkanes, toluene, and o‐xylene were the most depleted hydrocarbons. Some hydrocarbons, such as the n‐C10–24cyclohexanes, tri‐ and tetra‐ methylbenzenes, acyclic isoprenoids, and naphthalenes were the least depleted. Benzene was detected at every sampling location 30 years after the spill. Degradation of the oil led to increases in the percent organic carbon and in the δ 13C of the oil. Another method of determining hydrocarbon loss was by normalizing the total measured hydrocarbon concentrations to that of the most conservative analytes. This method indicated that the total measured hydrocarbons were depleted by 47% to 77% and loss of the oil mass over 30 years was 18% to 31%. Differences in hydrocarbon depletion were related to the depth of the oil in the aquifer, local topography, amount of recharge reaching the oil, availability of electron acceptors, and the presence of less permeable soils above the oil. The results from this study indicate that once crude oil has been in the subsurface for a number of years there is no longer a “starting oil concentration” that can be used to understand processes that affect its fate and the transport of hydrocarbons in groundwater.