WASHINGTON, DC - A U.S. Department of Energy-funded project has been honored with a major national award for superior environmental stewardship related to oil and natural gas operations.
The Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), the leading authority on State oil and gas regulatory programs, gave its Environmental Partnership Award to the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), ALL Consulting LLC, of Tulsa, Okla., and DOE's National Energy Technology Laboratory. The annual award recognizes innovative projects that highlight environmental care in oil and gas operations and are led by non-industry organizations with the cooperation and participation of the petroleum industry. The Environmental Partnership Award is one of the IOGCC's four Chairman's Stewardship Awards, which recognize organizations that have demonstrated a voluntary commitment to excellence in the areas of environmental stewardship and energy education.
KCC and ALL conducted research comparing various means of remediating soil that's been impacted by crude oil and salt water. Their work resulted in the development of an interactive web-based tool, the Site-Specific Remediation Planner, which serves as a guide for oil and natural gas operators and landowners to determine the most cost-effective way to remediate historical oil and salt water impacts.
Most U.S. crude oil is produced in conjunction with large volumes of high salt-content water, or brine. In the early days of America's petroleum industry, before environmental safeguards were put into place, such brines were simply discharged to the surface. Repeated discharges of brines eventually killed vegetation and eroded soil down to the plant root levels. It is common in oil-producing states to encounter such brine scars on old, orphaned well sites - areas denuded of vegetation and ravaged by deep soil erosion.
While the oil industry treats and/or safely disposes of brines today, operators still must contend with remediating these historical oil and gas brine scars. That can be a costly affair, draining not only industry coffers but State and Federal government budgets as well. Sometimes the costs can be high enough to cripple the economics of new drilling or enhanced recovery projects, thus hurting America's ability to sustain its oil and gas production.
The online Site-Specific Remediation Planner takes surface chemical analyses and provides site-specific recommendations to operators and landowners for amending soils, tilling, and revegetating salt scars that have slight to severe salt damage.
The project also sought to develop novel, low-cost methods to remediate brine scars. Researchers studied the feasibility of using native plants to remediate soils contaminated with oilfield wastes – a technique known as phytoremediation. These specially selected plants have the natural capability to remove, transfer, or stabilize oilfield contaminants in the soil while it remains in place.
Certain native grasses – such as saltgrass, alkali sacaton, arid bluestem, and others – not only can tolerate salt, they can even leach salt from the soil and remove it to surface vegetation for harvesting and disposal or even forage by livestock. The project performers successfully demonstrated the technique by remediating an orphaned oilfield site in Butler Co., Kansas, with native grasses.
Returning the soils to a healthier state through phytoremediation allows the reintroduction of other, sensitive plants to the land, including marketable crops, while giving oil and gas operators a low-cost, "walk-away" remediation alternative.