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Simple Techniques For Assessing Impacts Of Oil And Gas Operations On Public Lands: A Field Evaluation Of A Photoionization Detector (PID) At A Condensate Release Site, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas

Open-File Report 2001-183

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Abstract

Simple, cost-effective techniques are needed for land managers to assess the environmental impacts of oil and gas production activities on public lands, so that sites may be prioritized for remediation or for further, more formal assessment. Field-portable instruments provide real-time data and allow the field investigator to extend an assessment beyond simply locating and mapping obvious disturbances. Field investigators can examine sites for the presence of hydrocarbons in the subsurface using a soil auger and a photoionization detector (PID). The PID measures volatile organic compounds (VOC) in soil gases. This allows detection of hydrocarbons in the shallow subsurface near areas of obvious oil-stained soils, oil in pits, or dead vegetation. Remnants of a condensate release occur in sandy soils at a production site on the Padre Island National Seashore in south Texas. Dead vegetation had been observed by National Park Service personnel in the release area several years prior to our visit. The site is located several miles south of the Malaquite Beach Campground. In early 2001, we sampled soil gases for VOCs in the area believed to have received the condensate. Our purpose in this investigation was: 1) to establish what sampling techniques might be effective in sandy soils with a shallow water and contrast them with techniques used in an earlier study; and 2) delineate the probable area of condensate release. Our field results show that sealing the auger hole with a clear, rigid plastic tube capped at the top end and sampling the soil gas through a small hole in the cap increases the soil VOC gas signature, compared to sampling soil gases in the bottom of an open hole. This sealed-tube sampling method increases the contrast between the VOC levels within a contaminated area and adjacent background areas. The tube allows the PID air pump to draw soil gas from the volume of soil surrounding the open hole below the tube in a zone less influenced by atmospheric air. In an open hole, the VOC readings seem to be strongly dependent on the degree of diffusion and advection of soil gas VOCs into the open hole from the surrounding soil, a process that may vary with soil and wind conditions. Making measurements with the sealed hole does take some additional time (4-7 minutes after the hole is augered) compared to the open-hole technique (1-2 minutes). We used the rigid-plastic tube technique to survey for soil gas VOCs across the entire site, less than ? acre. Condensate has impacted at least 0.28 acres. The impacted area may extend northwest of the surveyed area.

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
Simple Techniques For Assessing Impacts Of Oil And Gas Operations On Public Lands: A Field Evaluation Of A Photoionization Detector (PID) At A Condensate Release Site, Padre Island National Seashore, Texas
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2001-183
Edition:
-
Year Published:
2001
Language:
ENGLISH
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Contributing office(s):
U.S. Geological Survey
Description:
27 p.