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HELENA, Mont. – A new report by the U.S. Geological Survey describes the extent and movement of contamination in the East Poplar oil field area in northeastern Montana. The contamination in shallow groundwater and the Poplar River is brine, which is saltier than seawater and is a byproduct as part of the process of extracting crude oil in the East Poplar oil field. The study determined likely source areas, brine plume extents, and movement of the plumes.
For more than half a century, millions of gallons of brine have been produced along with oil from the East Poplar oil field on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation. Until recently, the waste brine was placed in pits and ponds or injected into the ground through deep disposal wells and has made its way to the shallow groundwater and the Poplar River. Currently, the only approved method of brine disposal is to inject it deep into the ground.
When the brine mixes with the groundwater in the area, it often makes the water unsuitable for domestic purposes. Groundwater was previously the only available source of potable water to the area, and provided water for household wells and the city of Poplar’s public water-supply wells. Currently, treated water from the Missouri River about 20 miles upstream of the city of Poplar is piped to the city and nearby residents.
"There are many brine sources in the study area, resulting in multiple plumes. Some plumes remain in the groundwater for decades and have merged together, making it difficult to identify original sources," said Joanna Thamke, USGS hydrologist and lead author of the report. She continued, "this is important in development of water management practices, such as optimally locating wells in the future."
The USGS study, conducted in cooperation with the Fort Peck Tribe's' Office of Environmental Protection, shows that the brine contaminated groundwater is generally moving towards the southwest, eventually discharging into the Missouri River.
"This information will be used by the Fort Peck Tribes to direct future natural resource conservation efforts," said Deb Madison, Fort Peck Tribes' Environmental Programs Manager, who also added "the Fort Peck Tribes care deeply about these natural resources for today and for future generations."
Copies of "Delineation of Brine Contamination in and near the East Poplar Oil Field, Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Northeastern Montana, 2004–09" are available online.
To initiate new research projects on mineral resources important to the nation's economy, security, and land-use decisions, the U.S. Geological Survey has awarded $208,000 in research grants.
Recipients of the 2014 USGS Mineral Resources External Research Program grants will study rare earth elements in Colorado; scarce metals in the U.S. and global economies; and nickel, copper and platinum deposits in the Lake Superior region. These and other USGS mineral research projects are intended to provide science that can help the nation to avoid supply disruptions for minerals that are critical for national security and the economy, while reducing the effects of mining and other activities on the environment.
A Rare Concentration of Rare Earth Elements Near Jamestown, Colorado
Julien Allaz of the University of Colorado, Boulder will investigate an unusual concentration of rare earth elements in veins near Jamestown, Colorado. These veins were first studied more than 70 years ago, but not since. Allaz will investigate the origin of these veins using state-of-the-art methods. Rare earth elements are essential for an expanding array of high-technology applications, for many alternative energy technologies and for a number of key defense systems, but they are rarely concentrated into mineable ore deposits. Understanding the origin of these veins will help us to assess where similar concentrations of rare earth elements occur.
Understanding the Life Cycle of Scarce Metals in the U.S. and Global Economies
Thomas Graedel of Yale University will lead a team of researchers to characterize the materials flow of four scarce metals: gallium, germanium, rhenium, and tungsten. While similar studies have been conducted for major metals such as iron and copper, no such study has been done for these scarce metals, which are used to make aircraft engines, medical equipment, fiber optics, solar technology, consumer electronics, and lighting. This study will help to quantify potential supply strengths and weaknesses, to manage metal use more wisely, and to protect the environment.
How Did Copper Deposits Form in Sedimentary Rocks in Northern Wisconsin and Michigan
John Ridley of Colorado State University will investigate the nature and extent of fluids that transported and deposited copper in the Nonesuch Formation of northern Wisconsin and Michigan. Though two deposits, Copperwood and White Pine, occur in the Nonesuch, the fluid flow associated with these types of copper deposits is typically much more extensive than the deposits themselves. Copper has long been the key to improved living conditions. Today, nearly every building and house in the U.S. contains copper. It is used in plumbing, electrical wiring, cars, cell phones, and in wind turbines. This research will help evaluate the potential for similar copper deposits in the nation’s mid-continent region.
Determining the Source of Nickel, Copper and Platinum in Deposits of the Lake Superior Region
Edward Ripley and Chusi Li of Indiana University will research the source of nickel, copper and platinum group metals in the Lake Superior region of Minnesota and Michigan. They will apply state-of-the-art copper isotope analysis to determine if the metals originated from igneous rock intrusions in which they are now concentrated or from sedimentary rocks that surround the intrusions. Platinum group metals are used to reduce motor vehicle emissions and in technology. Nickel is used to produce strong alloys and stainless steel. This research project will help to assess and explore for deposits in similar geologic environments in the mid-continent region and elsewhere.
The MRERP invited research proposals that addressed the following topics:
- The Mid-continent Rift of the U.S.—Multidisciplinary studies to image and characterize the mineral resource potential of this significant crustal feature.
- Alaska as a mineral resource frontier—Core science investigations as a foundation for documenting mineral resource potential
- Hyperspectral imaging or other geophysical investigations of selected regions of the U.S.—State-of-the-art tools for mineral resource and mineral environmental investigations
- Materials flow studies—Investigations to address supply chain analysis (including risk analysis) and sustainable mineral supplies
- Critical Mineral Resources—Research to better understand the genesis and regional controls on the distribution of critical mineral-bearing systems. For the purpose of this solicitation, critical mineral commodities are defined as follows (in alphabetical order): cobalt, gallium, indium, lithium, niobium, platinum group elements, rare earth elements, rhenium, tantalum, and tellurium.
USGS accepted proposals from academia, State agencies, industry, or other private sector organizations and scientists. Visit the USGS Mineral Resources External Research Program for more information.
The USGS Mineral Resources Program delivers unbiased science and information to understand mineral resource potential, production, consumption, and how minerals interact with the environment.
The U.S. Geological Survey will award up to $5 million in grants for earthquake hazards research in 2015.
“The grants offered through the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program are an established and long-standing effort that have proven to be a success every year, with talented, scientific applicants who significantly contribute to the advancement of earthquake research,” said Bill Leith, USGS Senior Science Advisor for Earthquake and Geologic Hazards. “Every year we are rewarded by innovative proposals from across the country, so we encourage the continued submission of new ideas to help earthquake science evolve and, ultimately, reduce earthquake losses.”
Interested researchers can apply online at GRANTS.GOV under funding opportunity number G14AS00036. Applications are due May 22, 2014.
Each year the USGS awards earthquake hazards research grants to universities, state geological surveys, and private institutions. Past projects included investigating the Central Virginia Seismic Zone to develop a better understanding of this active seismic zone; examining the paleoseismic record in the Prince William Sound area of Alaska to characterize earthquakes prior to the Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964 to better understand future earthquakes in this hazard-prone area; and using GPS to measure ground deformation in the greater Las Vegas area and provide information on how faults will rupture in large, damaging earthquakes.
A complete list of funded projects and reports can be found on the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program external research support website.