Ground-water contamination by crude oil, and other petroleum-based liquids, is a widespread problem. An average of 83 crude-oil spills occurred per year during 1994-96 in the United States, each spilling about 50,000 barrels of crude oil (U.S. Office of Pipeline Safety, electronic commun., 1997). An understanding of the fate of organic contaminants (such as oil and gasoline) in the subsurface is needed to design innovative and cost-effective remedial solutions at contaminated sites.
A long-term, interdisciplinary research project sponsored by the U.G. Geological Survey (USGS) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program began in 1983 at a crude-oil spill site near Bemidji, Minnesota (fig. 1). The project involves research by scientists from the USGS and several academic institutions. This research is directed toward understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes controlling the migration and fate of hydrocarbon contaminants in the subsurface. The goal is to provide information and methods to help evaluate the potential for, and long-term performance of, natural and enhanced bioremediation of hydrocarbon contamination across the nation.
The crude-oil spill site near Bemidji is one of the better characterized sites of its kind in the world. Results of research conducted on processes affecting the migration and fate of crude oil in the environment have provided fundamental knowledge that has been used to remediate similar sites worldwide. The Bemidji research project was the first to document that the extent of crude-oil contamination at a site can be largely limited by natural attenuation. Scientists studying and documenting natural attenuation at other contaminated sites have used many of the methods and approaches developed at the Bemidji site.
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USGS Numbered Series
Ground Water Contamination by Crude Oil near Bemidji, Minnesota