Subsurface Transport of Inorganic and Organic Solutes from Experimental Road Spreading of Oil-Field Brine


  • E. Scott Bair,

    1. E. Scott Bair is assistant professor of hydrogeology in the Department of Geology and Mineralogy at The Ohio State University. He is responsible for teaching courses in water resources, hydrogeology, numerical flow modeling, and field methods in hydrogeology. His research interests concern the application of ground water flow, solute transport, and geostatistical theory to field problems. He received his Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from The Pennsylvania State University and his B.A. degree from The College of Wooster.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Robert K. Digel

    1. Robert K. Digel is a hydrogeologist with Harding Lawson Associates in Denver, Colorado. He received his B.S. degree from Bucknell University and his M.S. degree from The Ohio State University.
    Search for more papers by this author


A study designed to evaluate ground water quality changes resulting from spreading oil-field brine on roads for ice and dust control was conducted using a gravel roadbed that received weekly applications of brine eight times during the winter phase and 11 times during the summer phase of the study. A network of 11 monitoring wells and five pressure-vacuum lysimeters was installed to obtain ground water and soil water samples. Thirteen sets of water- quality samples were collected and analyzed for major ions, trace metals, and volatile organic compounds. Two sets of samples were taken prior to brine spreading, four sets during winter-phase spreading, five sets during summer- phase spreading, and two sets during the interim between the winter and summer phases. A brine plume delineated by elevated specific-conductance values and elevated chloride concentrations developed downgradient of the roadbed during both the winter and summer phases. The brine plume caused chloride concentrations in ground water samples to exceed U.S. EPA public drinking-water standards by two-fold during the winter phase and five-fold during the summer phase. No other major ions, trace metals, or volatile organic compounds exceeded the standards during the winter or summer phases. More than 99 percent dilution of the solutes in the brine occurred between the roadbed surface and the local ground water flow system. Further attenuation of calcium, sodium, potassium, and strontium resulted from adsorption, whereas further attenuation of benzene resulted from volatilization and adsorption.