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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Environmental Geosciences (DEG)


Environmental Geosciences, V. 12, No. 2 (June 2005), P. 101-113.

Copyright copy2005. The American Association of Petroleum Geologists/Division of Environmental Geosciences. All rights reserved.


Remediation of oil-field brine-impacted Previous HitsoilNext Hit using a subsurface drainage system and hay

Thomas M. Harris,1 J. Bryan Tapp,2 Kerry L. Sublette3

1Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104; present address: Delphi Catalysts Tulsa, Oklahoma 74158
2Department of Geosciences, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104
3Center for Applied Biogeosciences, University of Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74104; [email protected]


Tom Harris received his Ph.D. in metallurgy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1989. From 1989 to 2001, he was a faculty member in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the University of Tulsa. He also has 8 years of experience in industry, including 3 years in his current position with Delphi Catalyst.

Bryan Tapp is chairman of the Geosciences Department at the University of Tulsa. Trained in structural geology, he has worked in deformation mechanisms, mathematical geology, and finite-element analysis (FEA). His research emphasis has shifted to environmental analysis and application of geographical information systems (GIS) in geosciences. His current research involves the application of GIS and FEA to understand surface and subsurface brine contaminant flux.

Kerry Sublette is professor of chemical engineering and geosciences and Sarkeys Chair of Environmental Engineering at the University of Tulsa. He also serves as the director of the Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium, an Environmental Protection Agency Research Center. His research interests include the remediation of oil- and brine-contaminated sites and ecological indicators of the restoration of damaged Previous HitsoilNext Hit ecosystems.


Several students from the Departments of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Chemical Engineering, and Geosciences at the University of Tulsa have been involved in the collection and analysis of samples. Special recognition should be given to Rick Yates, Christina Dewan, and Kimberly (Sullivent) Schulte. Dorathy Perumallapali, Andrea High, and Jason McConnell also contributed much time and effort to these projects. Adam Ryburn of the Botany Department, Oklahoma State University, provided some identifications.

Funding for installation of the subsurface drainage system was provided by the National Petroleum Technology Office of the U.S. Department of Energy, through BDM Petroleum Technologies. The authors also thank Bob Hamilton of the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve for providing access to the research sites (and numerous bales of hay).


This study involved a demonstration of a novel remediation technology for brine-impacted Previous HitsoilNext Hit at a site in Osage County, Oklahoma, which was recently contaminated with produced-water brine from a leak in a steel line leading to a saltwater disposal well. At this site, topsoil was underlain by clay-rich subsoil, which had resulted in leaching and transport of brine components from the site to an environmental receptor (farm pond) downgradient. Encouraging further movement of brine components using natural drainage patterns would have only further contaminated the pond. A subsurface drainage system was installed to intercept brine components, enhance the lateral subsurface transport process, and prevent further contamination of the pond. Chloride and sodium concentrations in the Previous HitsoilNext Hit were reduced by an average of 93 and 78%, respectively, in the 4 yr after the subsurface drainage system was installed. More importantly, approximately 95% of the site revegetated during this period. This is in stark contrast to the complete lack of vegetation before the current work was initiated.

A thick layer of prairie hay was applied across the surface of this site after the subsurface drainage system was installed. In addition to limiting the rate of evaporation from the site, this organic material appears to have also been a significant factor in desalination and revegetation of the site. The fibrous hay enhanced leaching after mechanical disruption of the Previous HitsoilNext Hit and provided Previous HitsoilNext Hit organic matter that helped to build Previous HitsoilNext Hit structure and sustain the Previous HitsoilNext Hit ecosystem.

Based on the results from this study, a two-step remediation strategy for brine-impacted topsoil is proposed. The first step involves the tilling of hay and fertilizer into the Previous HitsoilTop, whereas the second step involves a subsurface drainage system, if necessary.

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