The authors conducted limited site surveys in the Wildhorse and Burbank oilfields on the Osage Indian Reservation, northeastern Oklahoma. The purpose was to document salt scarring, erosion, and soil and water salinization, to survey for radioactivity in oilfield equipment, and to determine if trace elements and naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) were present in soils affected by oilfield solid waste and produced waters. These surveys were also designed to see if field gamma spectrometry and field soil conductivity measurements were useful in screening for NORM contamination and soil salinity at these sites.
Visits to oilfield production sites in the Wildhorse field in June of 1995 and 1996 confirmed the presence of substantial salt scarring, soil salinization, and slight to locally severe erosion. Levels of radioactivity on some oil field equipment, soils, and road surfaces exceed proposed state standards. Radium activities in soils affected by tank sludge and produced waters also locally exceed proposed state standards. Laboratory analyses of samples from two sites show moderate levels of copper, lead, and zinc in brine-affected soils and pipe scale. Several sites showed detectable levels of bromine and iodine, suggesting that these trace elements may be present in sufficient quantity to inhibit plant growth. Surface waters in streams at two sampled sites exceed total dissolved solid limits for drinking waters. At one site in the Wildhorse field, an EM survey showed that saline soils in the upper 6m extend from a surface salt scar downvalley about 150 m.
(Photo [95k]: Dead oak trees and partly revegetated salt scar at Site OS95-2 in the Wildhorse field, Osage County, Oklahoma.)
In the Burbank field, limited salt scarring and slight erosion occurs in soils at some sites and low to moderate levels of radioactivity were observed in oil field equipment at some sites.
The levels of radioactivity and radium observed in some soils and equipment at these sites are above levels of concern as defined in regulations proposed by the Conference of Radiation Control Program Directors. The volumes of material involved appear to be relatively small for most sites. The lead levels observed in soils affected by tank sludge wastes are about one half of the US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) interim remedial action levels used for Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) sites (400 ppm).
Field gamma spectrometry proved useful in delineating areas where radium has been added to the natural soil by oilfield solid waste and produced water, although the technique does not meet standards of assessment used in the state of Louisiana which require core sampling of 15 cm intervals and radiochemical analysis in the laboratory. Further work is needed to develop field gamma spectrometry as a substitute for the more expensive coring and laboratory analysis. The ratio of radium-228 to radium-226 may hold promise in evaluating the relative ages of NORM contamination at a site.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Effects of produced waters at oilfield production sites on the Osage Indian Reservation, northeastern Oklahoma