Effects of a Crude-Oil Recovery Remediation System Operated 1999–2003 on Groundwater Plumes and Unsaturated-Zone Vapor Concentrations at a Crude-Oil Spill Site Near Bemidji, Minnesota

Scientific Investigations Report 2020-5111
Toxic Substances Hydrology Program
By: , and 

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Abstract

A crude-oil spill occurred in 1979 when a pipeline burst near Bemidji, Minnesota. More than 70 percent of the 1.7 million liters of spilled crude oil was removed shortly thereafter. In response to a requirement by the State regulatory agency to remove the remaining crude to a sheen in all wells, in 1998, the pipeline company installed a dual-pump recovery system at the site. This additional remediation from 1999 to 2003 resulted in removal of about 115,000 liters of crude oil, representing between 36 and 41 percent of the volume of oil (281,000–317,000 liters) estimated to be present in 1998. Effects of the 1999–2003 remediation on groundwater plumes and unsaturated-zone vapor concentrations were evaluated by the U.S. Geological Survey using several methods including measurements of oil thicknesses in wells; field water-quality properties of dissolved oxygen, specific conductance, temperature, and pH in groundwater; and vapor concentrations of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen in the unsaturated zone.

Although the recovery system decreased oil thicknesses near the remediation wells, average oil thicknesses measured in all wells at the site were not reduced substantially. Dissolved oxygen and specific conductance measurements indicate that a secondary plume was created during the remediation, caused by the disposal of pumped water from the remediation wells in an upgradient infiltration gallery. This plume expanded rapidly immediately after the start of the remediation in 1999, resulting in expansion of the anoxic zone of groundwater upgradient and beneath the existing natural attenuation plume. Beginning in 2000–1, for example, specific conductance concentrations noticeably increased in many wells at the north oil pool from about 400 to more than 700 microsiemens per centimeter. The rapid expansion of the anoxic and elevated specific conductance plume indicates that the remediation contributed substantial amounts of biodegradable dissolved organic carbon to groundwater through the infiltration gallery. The trends in vapor data collected before, during, and after the remediation generally support the research hypothesis that crude-oil removal would have an insignificant effect on vapor concentrations in the unsaturated zone. Although there were some small changes in the concentration of methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and oxygen in the unsaturated zone, these changes were not coincident with the beginning or cessation of the remediation and are therefore thought to be the result of other factors affecting biodegradation rates. A decrease in methane concentrations in one representative well, for example, is thought to be the result of reduced rates of biodegradation and methane production from the increasingly more weathered crude oil. Oil-phase recovery at this site was determined to be challenging and resulted in considerable volumes of mobile and entrapped oil remaining in the subsurface despite remediation efforts.

Suggested Citation

Delin, G.N., Herkelrath, W.N., and Trost, J.J., 2020, Effects of a crude-oil recovery remediation system operated 1999–2003 on groundwater plumes and unsaturated-zone vapor concentrations at a crude-oil spill site near Bemidji, Minnesota: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2020–5111, 31 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20205111.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Aquifer Hydraulic Properties
  • Oil Removed by 1999–2003 Remediation
  • Effects of the Crude-Oil Recovery Remediation System on Groundwater Plumes and Unsaturated-Zone Vapor Concentrations
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Appendix 1

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Effects of a crude-oil recovery remediation system operated 1999–2003 on groundwater plumes and unsaturated-zone vapor concentrations at a crude-oil spill site near Bemidji, Minnesota
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2020-5111
DOI 10.3133/sir20205111
Year Published 2020
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Upper Midwest Water Science Center
Description Report: vii, 31 p.; Data Releases
Country United States
State Minnesota
City Bemidji
Online Only (Y/N) Y
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