As part of a multidisciplinary group of about 20 scientists, we are investigating the transport, fate, natural attenuation, and ecosystem impacts of inorganic salts and organic compounds present in releases of produced water and associated hydrocarbons at the Osage–Skiatook Petroleum Environmental Research (OSPER) sites, located in Osage County, Oklahoma. Geochemical data collected from nearby oil wells show that the produced water source is a Na-Ca-Cl brine (∼150,000 mg/L total dissolved solids [TDS]), with relatively high concentrations of Mg, Sr, and NH4, but low SO4 and H2S. Results from the depleted OSPER A site show that the salts continue to be removed from the soil and surficial rocks, but degraded oil persists on the contaminated surface. Eventually, the bulk of inorganic salts and dissolved organics in the brine will reach the adjacent Skiatook Lake, a 4250-ha (10,501-ac) potable water reservoir.
Repeated sampling of 44 wells show a plume of high-salinity water (2000–30,000 mg/L TDS) at intermediate depths that intersects Skiatook Lake and extends beyond the visibly impacted areas. No liquid petroleum was observed in this plume, but organic acid anions, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX), and other volatile organic carbon (VOC) are present. The chemical composition of released brine is modified by sorption, mineral precipitation and dissolution, evapotranspiration, volatilization, and bacterially mediated oxidation-reduction reactions, in addition to mixing with percolating precipitation water, lake water, and pristine groundwater. Results show that only minor amounts of salt are removed by runoff, supporting the conclusion that significant amounts of salts from produced water and petroleum releases still remain in the soils and rocks of the impacted area after more than 65 yr of natural attenuation.