Radium-bearing barite (radiobarite) is a common constituent of scale and sludge deposits that form in oil-field production equipment. The barite forms as a precipitate from radium-bearing, saline formation water that is pumped to the surface along with oil. Radioactivity levels in some oil-field equipment and in soils contaminated by scale and sludge can be sufficiently high to pose a potential health threat. Accurate determinations of radium isotopes (226Ra+228Ra) in soils are required to establish the level of soil contamination and the volume of soil that may exceed regulatory limits for total radium content. In this study the radium isotopic data are used to provide estimates of the age of formation of the radiobarite contaminant. Age estimates require that highly insoluble radiobarite approximates a chemically closed system from the time of its formation. Age estimates are based on the decay of short-lived 228Ra (half-life=5.76 years) compared to 226Ra (half-life=1600 years). Present activity ratios of 228Ra/226Ra in radiobarite-rich scale or highly contaminated soil are compared to initial ratios at the time of radiobarite precipitation. Initial ratios are estimated by measurements of saline water or recent barite precipitates at the site or by considering a range of probable initial ratios based on reported values in modern oil-field brines. At sites that contain two distinct radiobarite sources of different age, the soils containing mixtures of sources can be identified, and mixing proportions quantified using radium concentration and isotopic data. These uses of radium isotope data provide more description of contamination history and can possibly address liability issues. Copyright ?? 2000 .
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Use of radium isotopes to determine the age and origin of radioactive barite at oil-field production sites