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Abstract: Surface Reclamation of the Big Lake Oil Field

Michael L. Weathers, Kenneth R. Moore, Donald L. Ford, Charles K. Curlee

Since the discovery of 1 Santa Rita in 1923, millions of barrels of salt water have been produced along with 135 million bbl of oil from the Big Lake oil field in Reagan County, Texas. Until the early 1960s, the accepted disposal method for the produced water was surface discharge to a large evaporation pond north of the field. Produced water was allowed to flow from wells to the pond via natural topographic drainage. This practice resulted in 2000 ac of eroded, barren landscape, characterized by highly saline soils incapable of supporting vegetation.

In 1989, the University of Texas System, the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, and Marathon Oil Company, which acquired Big Lake field in 1962, initiated an experimental project to reclaim the affected land and restore rangeland productivity. An underground drainage system, consisting of 125,000 ft of buried drainage conduit and eight collection sumps, was installed over 205 ac of the affected area. Earthen terraces were constructed to capture and hold rain water to facilitate downward percolation and leaching of salts from the soil profile. Salts leached from the soil are captured by the drainage system and pumped to injection wells for disposal.

The excellent revegetation that has occurred over the test area after three years of operations is encouraging and has shown the need for expanding and enhancing the existing system with supplemental water from fresh water wells, application of soil-amending agents, additional terracing, and selective planting with salt-tolerant species.

AAPG Search and Discovery Article #90980©1994 AAPG Southwest Section Meeting, Ruidoso, New Mexico, April 24-26, 1994