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Application of Principles of Soil Science in Effective and Practical Approaches to Remediation of Produced Brine Releases in the Permian Basin Area of West Texas

Hoy L. Bryson and A. Shane Estep
Etech Environmental & Safety Solutions, Inc. Midland, Texas.

Produced brine releases to surface soils in the Permian Basin of West Texas create a remediation challenge that can be effectively and practically addressed by applying well-understood principles of soil science. The Permian Basin is a semi-arid region, receiving average annual precipitation of less than 15 inches. During long periods of the year evapotranspiration rates may often exceed precipitation rates significantly. Common soil types are sands or sandy loams, often naturally exhibiting saline, sodic or alkaline properties. Under these conditions, loading surface soils with sodium salts – particularly sodium chloride salt – from produced brine releases exacerbates an already difficult situation. In response, this paper explains the basic concepts of saline, sodic and alkaline soils; it relates terms such as electrical conductivity, sodium adsorption ratio and cation exchange capacity to identifiable effects; and it presents soils management options that can result in successful remediation of brine spill impacts. Case studies are presented that demonstrate the fact that spills of produced brine do not present intractable difficulties, nor do they require exorbitantly expensive remediation treatments to satisfy the requirements of regulatory entities or the property management goals of the surface owner.