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The AAPG/Datapages Combined Publications Database

Pacific Section of AAPG


Environmental Concerns in the Petroleum Industry, 1989
Pages 83-105

Prevention: Ground Water Contamination at the Martha Oil Field, Lawrence and Johnson Counties, Kentucky

Charles K. Eger, John S. Vargo


The Martha Oil Field, located in Lawrence and Johnson Counties, Kentucky, is comprised of three areas totalling over 50 square miles (80.45 square kilometers). Production at the Martha Oil Field from the Weir Oil Sands (Lower Borden Formation, Osage Series and Mississippian System) began at the turn of the century. Secondary recovery, which consisted of water flooding, commenced in 1955 in the eastern portion of the field. The Martha Main Field Area occupies approximately 4500 acres (18.21 square kilometers). Almost 3200 acres (12.95 square kilometers) were under the water flood program until 1986. Tertiary recovery methods have been proposed.

The upwelling of brine/oil (via breached well casings, uncemented annuli, and improperly plugged and abandoned wells) resulted in widespread contamination of the three Underground Sources of Drinking Water (USDWs; Alluvium, Breathitt and Lee formations). Causal effects of this pollution upwelling include increased potentiometric head within the Weir Oil Sands by fresh water injection and cones of depression in the Lee Aquifer resulting from pumping of industrial water supply wells.

Field investigations by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Army Corps of Engineers in 1986 confirmed the prevalent nature of pollution in all three of the USDWs. As a result of these actions, EPA Region IV determined that the Responsible Party was in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and Underground Injection Control Regulations. Violations included: operating and/or maintaining injection activities in a manner that allowed the movement of fluids containing contaminants into USDWs; failure to properly plug and abandon injection wells which had been temporarily abandoned for two years or more; and injecting at a pressure which resulted in the movement of injected and/or formation fluids into a USDW.

In response to EPA’s notice of violations and other requirements, the Responsible Party proposed a program to properly plug and abandon all injection wells, oil production wells, industrial water supply wells and most gas production wells in the Martha Main Field Area. The Responsible Party is in the process of plugging 1433 wells utilizing standards established by EPA. Additionally, 45 injection wells within adjoining acreage have been identified for plugging and abandonment. The Responsible Party is undertaking a comprehensive program of monitoring and remediation which will address effects of oil production activities on USDWs. This program will achieve full compliance with all SDWA requirements and implementing regulations.

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