SAN ANGELO, TX – Salt water or “brine” contamination is a common issue during oil exploration and extraction. Angelo State University and Shell Oil are working on a project that could speed up the recovery time of impacted land from more than fifty years, to just ten.
The conversation about the environmental risks and impacts of oil exploration and extraction is not new. Now, ASU and Shell have teamed up to develop a method for rehabilitating land impacted by brine and salt water spills with the Saltgrass Project.
“Shell has a long history of partnering with with various organizations that are working to conserve and protect natural resources,” said Erik Hansen, the Water Manager for Shell in the Permian West Texas region. “We’re excited by the potential of this project for conservation and land restoration.”
Utilizing a combination of methods, ASU students and staff have successfully rehabilitated small tracts of land suffering from high soil salinity. “We identify sites, we started out with a preliminary site down by Christoval,” detailed Dr. Cody Scott, project head and Professor of Agriculture at ASU. “We identify sites that salt water has been spilled on the surface where we have a high salinity content in the soil. We then come in and ways to reclaim that. The primary way is the introduction of plants called halophytes. Halophytes are plants that can grow in high saline soils.”
“My part of the project consisted on undertaking a greenhouse study to assess the combined effect of growing salt tolerant plants and amending brine contaminated soils with a volcanic material called zeolite to reduce salt concentration in soil while enhancing plant growth,” explained project contributor Dr. Aldo Pinon-Villarreal. “In this experiment pots were filled with a mixture of soil and zeolite and seedlings of two types of salt tolerant grasses were transplanted on the pots. The plants were grown in the ASU greenhouse for two months and irrigated frequently. At the end of the experiment samples of soil, plant tissue, and deep percolate (leachate) will be analyzed to determine the brine salt concentration.”
Having monitored the project closely, shell is hopeful about enacting it. “First thing that we would do is to conduct a risk assessment to determine, what is the appropriate time frame agreement with all stakeholders and impacted parties,” Hansen elaborated. “If the risks are commensurate, then we could employ a technique such as this.” Once the land recovers and can support plant growth, it will also be able to support wildlife and livestock.
Even as oil is utilized less and less for fuel, and more for plastics and industrial applications, environmental protection is important. For more on this project visit the ASU webpage.