- ©2002. AAPG/DEG
The most enduring legacy of inadequate waste management in old hydrocarbon fields is the extensive saltwater-scarred landscapes present in many of these areas. The features may be prominent for decades after saltwater disposal. The extent and natural healing of saltwater-modified landscapes vary based on several factors, including the saltwater volumes that were disposed, the method of surface disposal, climate and rainfall, surface topography, soil types, and vegetation types. The Norphlet district of Smackover Field, Arkansas, is an outstanding example of longterm saltwater disposal onto the ground. Saltwater damage was studied by digitizing scar distribution from 1936 and 1996 aerial photography, mapping saltwater production patterns, and observing modern landscape features in different stages of recovery. The most prominent and long-term saltwater scars are present in intermittent creeks away from the Smackover Creek floodplain. Scars on the floodplain are either more broad because of the poor drainage of polluted water or have healed more rapidly because of the flushing effect of nearby perennial streams. Creek scars in 1996 aerial photography and in the field are in different stages of recovery. Drainage scars are dominated by either salt-resistant vegetation or the absence of any vegetation. A few areas have recovered completely with the return of trees to the creek banks. Lease pits used for saltwater storage also remain as prominent features, but they, too, have healed and disappeared over the decades.
Mary Barrett is an Associate Professor of Geology at Centenary College of Louisiana. She received her B.S. and M.S. from Stephen F. Austin State University and her Ph.D. degree from Johns Hopkins University, all in geology. She worked for Mobil Exploration and Producing in Dallas, New Orleans, and Denver before joining the Centenary faculty. At Mobil, she specialized in improved recovery from aging fields. At Centenary, she expanded her interests in aging fields to consider their history and surface environmental impacts. Her Smackover work received the DEG excellence of presentation award for the best technical paper at the New Orleans 2000 meeting.