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Subsurface Migration of Petroleum Hydrocarbons: A Case Study of Immiscible Migration and Chromatographic Separation

DAWSON, HELEN E., Uribe and Associates, Palo Alto, CA

The subsurface distribution of a leaked crude oil illustrates the combined influence of both the chemical and physical properties of soil and free product on the migration of petroleum hydrocarbons. Immiscible phase behavior was observed, as well as chromatographic-like separation of the lighter constituents of the crude oil from the heavier constituents. After downward migration through approximately 50 ft of unsaturated, heterogeneous alluvial sediments, the crude oil formed a horizontal plume on top of a perched, saturated zone. Immiscible phase trapping is evident from the occurrence of very high concentration of hydrocarbons in both the vertical and horizontal plumes. Samples taken from the vertical zone of contamination indicate a transition from heavier hydrocarbons near the su face to lighter hydrocarbons at depth. This phenomenon is attributed to chromatographic-like separation of the heavier hydrocarbons by the soil, possibly due to preferential solubility of the lighter hydrocarbons in percolating rain water.


AAPG Search and Discovery Article #91009©1991 AAPG-SEPM-SEG-SPWLA Pacific Section Annual Meeting, Bakersfield, California, March 6-8, 1991 (2009)