Saltwater research efforts explore different remediation strategies

By The Bakken Magazine Staff | January 18, 2016

North Dakota’s two largest universities are conducting research projects in an effort to generate long-term solutions to reclaiming former Bakken oil field sites negatively impacted by salt water.

North Dakota State University and the University of North Dakota Energy and Environmental Research Center, funded by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, are conducting the research on legacy or old brine-contaminated sites. The pits are several decades old, formed before the practice was outlawed in 1983.

“The idea of the project is to try to come up with a means of returning those lands to productive use,” said John Harju, EERC vice president for strategic partnerships.

Drain tile
The EERC, which received $500,000 from the North Dakota Industrial Commission, is focusing its research on a saltwater pit in northern North Dakota near Bottineau. The EERC researchers who began studying the area this past fall discovered that the contaminated area is nearly nine acres, more than double the four that it had previously been characterized as, Harju said.

The increase in size may be the result of an inaccurate initial characterization, groundwater moving through the drilling pit and broadening the distribution of the salt water or a combination of both of those things, Harju said.

Because the contaminated area is larger than previously thought, returning the land to production will require a different approach than the one EERC originally planned to take and the reclamation project will take longer than the one or two years the EERC had anticipated it would take, Harju said.

One approach the EERC is considering includes the use of drain tile to stop the migration of salt, flushing water through the impacted area into a shallow sump, and then removing the saltwater with a pump and disposing of it in a deep saltwater injection and disposal well.