Oil Sources

The two principal sites of oil waste are at the oil field and oil refinery. At the former, numerous problems are associated with well drilling. Drilling techniques frequently use water under pressure to bring material from the drill hole to the surface. In some cases, the drilling process passes through a significant amount of low-yield, oil-bearing strata prior to reaching the high oil-bearing region, resulting in oil being carried to the surface with the drilling mud. Also, on reaching the high oil-bearing stratum, the drilling process can regurgitate a small amount of highly concentrated oil.

Where there is naturally occurring or artificially induced high pressure on the oil-bearing areas, the oil can be forced up and out of the well. This situation represents a high concentration of oil that must be properly disposed. Brines are also associated with oil in the ground, and large amounts of brine contaminated with oil can reach the surface. The oil must be separated before the brine can be disposed in a satisfactory manner.

At the refinery, nearly all sources of oil waste result from spills. Although accidents can occur anywhere in the plant, the prime sources of spills are at loading and unloading sites. These areas should be curbed and separately sewered with provisions for separating oil from surface water runoff. Spills within the refinery present specific problems as a function of the oil type being processed at that point in the refinery. Treatment must be based on the type of oil involved.

Many other sources of oil reach the environment due to man's activities. Many of these are related to oil transport. Another widely dispersed source of oil spills is the automotive transportation system, with the local gasoline service station the focus of the problem. Due to federal taxation, reprocessing used oil for reuse is no longer economical.

Scavengers are reluctant to collect oil, and frequently oil reaches the local sewer system. The machine tool industry uses considerable volumes of oil for lubrication and cutting. All mechanized industries require oil for lubrication. In the steel industry, fabricated metals are frequently dipped in oil to prevent rust during storage. Runoff from highways and parking lots contains measurable amounts of oil leaked from motor vehicles. Another source of oil is the common two-cycle engine used frequently for lawn mowers and outboard motors. Tests show that at low speeds, two-cycle outboard motors bypass as much as one-third of the total fuel-oil mixture.

Numerous natural oil sources also exist. These sources occur frequently in marshy areas, primarily near natural oil-bearing strata. Natural oil seeps also exist in areas along the Pacific Coast. Generally, these natural sources are insignificant as pollution problems. However, if man or earthquakes disrupt the fissures, they can become enlarged to the point where a problem is created.

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