Final Report: Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium (IPEC)

EPA Grant Number: R830633
Center: IPEC University of Tulsa (TU)
Center Director: Sublette, Kerry L.
Title: Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium (IPEC)
Investigators: Sublette, Kerry L. , Babcock, Robert E. , Gasem, Khaled A , Suflita, Joseph
Institution: University of Tulsa , Oklahoma State University , University of Arkansas - Fayetteville , University of Oklahoma
EPA Project Officer: Lasat, Mitch
Project Period: September 1, 2002 through August 31, 2007
Project Amount: Refer to main center abstract for funding details.
RFA: Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium (IPEC) (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Targeted Research


Funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development, the mission of IPEC is to increase the competitiveness of the domestic petroleum industry through a reduction in the costs of compliance with U.S. Environmental regulations. Specifically, IPEC is

  • developing cost effective technologies to meet the challenges of environmental regulations to the competitiveness of the domestic petroleum industry.
  • training environmental professionals as an investment in technology and policy development.
  • disseminating information regarding technology development and legal and regulatory issues which can impact the competitiveness of the domestic petroleum industry.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The Continuing Crisis in the Domestic Petroleum Industry:

Much attention has been paid recently to the high costs to consumers of gasoline and natural gas. Energy experts agree that the price increases currently being experienced were brought on by short-term shocks that resulted from sudden changes in supply and demand. On the demand side there has been increasing demand for petroleum worldwide, especially in the Far East. On the supply side, OPEC and several non-OPEC countries have removed significant amounts of crude oil from production. Once again America has been held hostage to the marketing whims of foreign producers and we are in no position to respond. Since 1990 there has been a 27% decline in the number of jobs in the U.S. exploring and producing oil and gas and the number of working drilling rigs has seriously declined. Thirty-six refineries have closed since 1992 and no new refineries have been built since 1976. Most energy analysts agree that we need to "drill our way out" of the current high prices and shortages; however, the industry's infrastructure (in terms of equipment and trained personnel) cannot support the amount of drilling activity current prices would otherwise encourage.

In order to regain energy security the U.S. must have a coherent domestic energy strategy. Some may be willing to entrust the health of the U.S. economy to windmills and solar-powered cars, but it will be a stable and profitable domestic oil and gas industry that is the nation’s best defense against OPEC market manipulations. The current upswing in crude oil prices may stimulate the industry. However, the record low prices that preceded the current increases have left many companies in financial positions that make it impossible to launch new exploration activities. Additionally, many in the industry are simply uneasy with the volatility that has come to characterize the industry. Much of U.S. domestic oil production is carried out by independent producers who are producing from mature fields left behind by the majors. Although there is a significant resource base in these fields, this is the most difficult and the most costly oil to produce. The independent producer has only one source of revenue--the sale of oil and gas. There is no vertical depth to his business.

The high cost of environmental compliance has made domestic oil production noncompetitive with foreign oil and placed the U.S. at a strategic disadvantage. IPEC is working to strengthen the domestic petroleum industry and reduce the impact of market volatility by providing cost-effective environmental technologies to solve those problems that are having the greatest impact on production costs. These efforts are especially needed now as we develop new sources of natural gas such as coal-bed methane. This new source of natural gas is desperately needed to meet our nation's energy demand but coal-bed methane presents some unique environmental problems which must be addressed in a cost-effective manner. A strong and stable domestic petroleum industry is our best hedge against foreign market manipulation.

In FY98, initial funding was provided by Congress for the establishment of the Integrated Petroleum Environmental Consortium (IPEC), for the development of environmental technology and technology transfer for the domestic petroleum industry.

Funded through the Office of Research and Development of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (ORD-EPA), the consortium has produced a research center which includes The University of Tulsa, The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, and The University of Arkansas. IPEC's operating practices and linkages to the independent sector ensure that real problems in the domestic petroleum industry are addressed with real, workable solutions.

IPEC is developing cost-effective solutions for the environmental problems that represent the greatest challenge to the competitiveness of the domestic petroleum industry and providing much needed technology transfer to the small independent producers.

Center Focus - Funded Technology Development Projects:

Technology development projects funded under Grant #R83-0633-010 have included:

“Evaluation of Commercial, Microbial-Based Products to Treat Paraffin Deposition in Tank Bottoms and Oil Production Equipment” – University of Oklahoma
Many microbial products are available commercially for treating paraffin deposits in wells, tanks, etc. Sometimes these products work and sometimes they don’t. Researchers at OU have been studying the underlying mechanisms of the action of these products to allow independent producers to determine the conditions under which these products are most likely to succeed. This allows the producers to more wisely invest their remediation dollars and increase the probability of a successful pollution prevention action.

“Development of an Environmentally Friendly & Economical Process for Plugging Abandoned Wells” – University of Oklahoma
The objective of this project was to develop a practical process/technique to a place fly ash slurry in the wellbore under the in situ conditions and to verify it’s plugging quality by using the laboratory and actual well test data. It was found from the laboratory study that the fly ash slurry had sufficient thickening time and could be pumped successfully through coiled and straight tubing. Pumping through coiled tubing will minimize the environmentally hazardous working conditions and maximize the economic benefits by eliminating the conventional rig-up. By performing tests for shear bond strength, hydraulic bond strength, and gas permeability, it was confirmed that Class C fly ash grout could make a sound plug to keep fluids from communicating in the abandoned well. The fly ash plug itself showed a low permeability. Furthermore, with the assistance from Oklahoma Corporation Commission, two wells were identified to be plugged with this newly developed fly ash plugging technology. Thus, this newly developed Class C fly ash plugging technology will be verified as a secure method to plug abandoned wells in an environmentally friendly and economical way.

“A Continuation of Remediation of Brine Spills with Hay” – University of Tulsa
This project field tested the use of organic matter (hay) as a primary amendment for the remediation of brine spills. Rebuilding of soil structure after a brine spill requires soluble calcium to displace sodium from clay particles. This has traditionally been done using an amendment of gypsum. However, gypsum is only slightly soluble and causes numerous problems for plants during revegetation in terms of its effects on nutrient availability. This project demonstrated that if there is sufficient calcium carbonate present in the soil then decay of organic matter in the soil will produce acid in situ to solubilize calcium. Thus the need for gypsum is eliminated and the restoration potential of brine impacted sites is improved.

“Identifying the Signature of the Natural Attenuation of MTBE in Groundwater Using Molecular Methods and “Bug Traps” – University of Tulsa and University of Tennessee

“Identifying the Signature of the Natural Attenuation in the Microbial Ecology of Hydrocarbon Contaminated Groundwater Using Molecular Methods and “Bug Traps” – University of Tulsa and University of Tennessee
These related projects have combined biological molecular methods and a novel passive sampling system (bio-trap) to produce a technology that will allow the active component of any contaminated groundwater microbial community to be investigated. Conventional sampling methods cannot effectively distinguish between microbes that are actively growing and those that are dormant. These methods lead to a better understanding of the progress and process of intrinsic bioremediation of hydrocarbons and MTBE and significantly contribute to effective site management. These bio-traps are now a commercially available product.

“Using Plants to Remediate Petroleum-Contaminated Soil: Project Continuation” – University of Arkansas
Crude oil contamination of soil often occurs adjacent to wellheads and storage facilities. Phytoremediation is a promising tool that can be used to remediate such sites and uses plants and agronomic techniques to enhance biodegradation of hydrocarbons. This project has conducted a field study to evaluate the effects of fertilizer and vegetation establishment on phytoremediaton of crude-oil contaminated soil. The findings of this study suggest that phytoremediation does reduce contaminant levels through the action of microbial communities associated with the rhizosphere and has resulted in an effective agronomic management strategy to exploit this understanding.

“Use of Earthworms to Accelerate the Restoration of Oil and Brine Impacted Sites” – University of Tulsa, University of Oklahoma, and University of Arkansas
The restoration of soil ecosystems following remediation of oil and brine spills can be a lengthy process. This project has investigated the efficacy of the re-introduction of earthworms to sites which have undergone remediation for crude oil or brine spills in order to accelerate the restoration of these sites in terms of soil quality and plant biomass and species diversity. Specifically this project examined the effects of three treatment variables: earthworms, organic matter, and fertilizer, on the restoration of the two sites, a remediated crude oil spill and a remediatied brine spill. This study has shown that earthworms can readily be reintroduced to these types of sites resulting in significant improvments in soil fertility in an economical manner.

“Effective Stormwater and Sediment Control During Pipeline Construction Using a New Filter Fence Concept” – Oklahoma State University
Sediment has recently become an emphasis in the EPA NPDES storm water rules because of its impact on habitat and the macro-invertebrates in stream channels. This is particularly critical for pipelines and will become even more important under Phase II of the Clean Water Act. Current sediment control BMP technology for linear construction and brine reclamation projects is primarily limited to silt fence since it does not cause significant additional disruptions to the landscape during installation and removal. Since silt fence has been found to be practically ineffective in a recent national study this project address modifications of current technology to make silt fence effective. A dramatically modified to current silt fence technology, known as FAESF, has been investigated which has the potential to: a) control undercutting and overtopping due to cross-contour installations, b) control lateral flow along the silt fence, c) improve the trapping of fine silts and clays, d) provide adequate strength of posts and fence to prevent excessive stretching and overturning, and e) provide for adequate bearing capacity of post footings. Field testing has been successful and investigators are meeting with regulators and holding workshops to communicate their findings.

“Evaluation of Sub-Micellar Synthetic Surfactants Versus Biosurfactants for Enhanced LNAPL Recovery” – University of Oklahoma
Surfactant enhanced subsurface remediation is one of several innovative technologies that is being widely evaluated for remediation of subsurface NAPL spills. Recent advances have helped to make this technology economically viable even when using higher concentrations (1,000 to 40,000 mg/L) of synthetic surfactants. However, recent work with biosurfactants shows that these materials can produce similar removal efficiencies with much lower surfactant concentrations (say 1 to 2 orders of magnitude lower). Thus, the economics of this technology may be even more favorable using biosurfactants, while also improving the environmental friendliness of implementing this technology since biosurfactants are readily biodegradable. The objective of this research was to assess the relative technical and economic efficiency of synthetic surfactants versus biosurfactants to recover free-phase LNAPL. The investigators found that it is possible to formulate biosurfactant/surfactant mixtures that provide the appropriate hydrophobic/hydrophilic conditions to generate ultralow interfacial tension (IFT) against light non-aqueous phase liquids (LNAPL). The data indicate that the addition of biosurfactants reduced the amount of synthetic surfactant required for interfacial activity, suggesting that biosurfactant/synthetic surfactant mixtures may be an economic approach for subsurface remediation.

“Utilization of the Carbon and Hydrogen Isotopic Composition of Individual Compounds in Refined Hydrocarbon Products to Monitor Their Fate in the Environment” – University of Oklahoma
The goal of this work is to develop a method utilizing compound-specific isotope analysis (CSIA), which can be successfully applied to contaminated sites, to demonstrate the onset of natural attenuation of contaminants and monitor the extent and progress of this attenuation. The compounds of primary interest in this study are MTBE, TBA and volatile hydrocarbons associated with refined hydrocarbon products. The proposed objective was followed through a combined laboratory and field study. Three main lines of research were: (1) characterization of isotope effects resulting from biodegradation of gasoline-range contaminants (MTBE in particular); (2) evaluation of abiotic weathering (e.g., volatilization) for potential interference with CSIA; and (3) determination of the initial (pre-degradation) isotope signatures of various gasoline-range oxygenates and hydrocarbons. The obtained results should permit more confident interpretation of CSIA data obtained from contaminated sites and more economical management of such sites.

Available quarterly and final reports may be accessed on the center website at Exit .

Technology Transfer:

IPEC's technology transfer program is directed toward providing useful tools for environmental compliance and cost reduction to independent producers. The first objective of this program was to raise the level of technical training of the field inspectors of the oil and gas regulatory bodies of Oklahoma and Arkansas including the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission, and the Osage Agency of the Bureau of Indian Affairs with regard to first response to spills, pollution prevention, and remediation of oil and brine spills. The second objective of this program was the development of checklists and tools for independent producers to assist them in environmental audits ("staying out of trouble checklists"), remediation of oil and brine spills, and first response to spills. Oklahoma and Arkansas regulatory field agents are being used to deliver these tools to the independent producers. The technology transfer program has also produced and maintains an IPEC website ( Exit ) which contains basic information about the consortium as well as results of ongoing research. IPEC's technology transfer flagship is the International Petroleum Environmental Conference, which showcases national and international research as well as IPEC funded ongoing research projects. In November, 2007, IPEC held the 14th International Petroleum Environmental Conference in Houston, TX. There were approximately 300 in attendance from academia and all facets of the oil and gas industry, including independent and major producers, service industry representatives, and state and federal regulators. The program for the 14th conference featured three pre-conference workshops, two mid-week workshops, five plenary lectures, 129 technical presentations and posters, and an exhibits area with 38 companies and organizations participating. A well-attended Special Symposium titled "Environmental Implications of Fuel Ethanol" was held at the end of the conference. The 15th conference will be held November 11-13, 2008 in Albuquerque, NM.

The overall structure of the IPEC Technology Transfer program has encompassed the following items:

  1. establishing and maintaining a world wide web page to showcase results of funded technology development projects, proceedings of the yearly conference, facilitate the distribution of tools for independent producers and disseminate news items, announcements, etc. ( Exit );
  2. developing workshops for independent producers on remediation and first response to spills of produced fluids;
  3. developing workshops for independent producers on regulatory compliance;
  4. establishing scholarships for regulatory technical personnel for participation in the International Petroleum Environmental Conference;
  5. developing and distributing self-assessment kits, site checklists, soil and water analysis kits, remediation guidelines for oil and brine spills, and instructional videos and DVD’s to aid independent producers and regulators in the field, with the following items distributed through end of the grant period:
    Soil Salt Kit   4,035   Site Quick Checklist   7,251
    Water Salt Kit   2,099   Site Detailed Checklist   4,009
    Do It Yourself Kit   2,071   Economics Video   5,994
    Bioremediation Card-Crude Oil   9,564   Bioremediation Video   2,632
    Remediation of Brine Spills Card   4,662        

  1. establishing a position of Technology Transfer Outreach Manager in order to continue to expand and improve the consortium technology transfer program; and
  2. assisting to organize and present the yearly International Petroleum Environmental Conference designed to explore issues and solutions in exploration, production and refining.

Journal Articles: 8 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other center views: All 32 publications 8 publications in selected types All 8 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Geyer R, Peacock AD, Miltner A, Richnow HH, White DC, Sublette KL, Kastner M. In situ assessment of biodegradation potential using biotraps amended with 13C-labeled benzene or toluene. Environmental Science & Technology 2005;39(13):4983-4989. R830633 (Final)
X832428 (Final)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Abstract: ES&T-Abstract
  • Journal Article Kuder T, Wilson JT, Kaiser P, Kolhatkar R, Philp P, Allen J. Enrichment of stable carbon and hydrogen isotopes during anaerobic biodegradation of MTBE: Microcosm and field evidence. Environmental Science & Technology 2005;39(1):213-220. R830633C005 (2005)
    R827015C032 (2005)
  • Full-text: ACS Publications Full Text
  • Abstract: ACS Publications Abstract
  • Other: ACS Publications PDF
  • Journal Article Kuder T, Philp P. Modern geochemical and molecular tools for monitoring in-situ biodegradation of MTBE and TBA. Reviews in Environmental Science and Biotechnology 2008;7(1):79-91. R830633C005 (2006)
    R830633C005 (Final)
  • Full-text: SpringerLink Full Text
  • Abstract: SpringerLink Abstract
  • Other: SpringerLink PDF
  • Journal Article Sublette KL, Tapp JB, Fisher JB, Jennings E, Duncan K, Thoma G, Brokaw J, Todd T. Lessons learned in remediation and restoration in the Oklahoma prairie: a review. Applied Geochemistry 2007;22(10):2225-2239. R830633 (Final)
    X832428 (Final)
  • Full-text: ScienceDirect-Full Text HTML
  • Abstract: ScienceDirect-Abstract
  • Other: ScienceDirect-Full Text PDF
  • Journal Article Sublette K, Jennings E, Mehta C, Duncan K, Brokaw J, Todd T, Thoma G. Monitoring soil ecosystem recovery following bioremediation of a terrestrial crude oil spill with and without a fertilizer amendment. Soil and Sediment Contamination 2007;16(2):181-208. R830633 (Final)
    X832428 (Final)
  • Abstract: Taylor&Francis-Abstract
  • Journal Article Thoma GJ, Lam TB, Wolf DC. A mathematical model of phytoremediation for petroleum-contaminated soil: model development. International Journal of Phytoremediation 2003;5(1):41-55. R830633 (Final)
    R827015C018 (Final)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Abstract: Informaworld
  • Journal Article White Jr. PM, Wolf DC, Thoma GJ, Reynolds CM. Influence of organic and inorganic soil amendments on plant growth in crude oil-contaminated soil. International Journal of Phytoremediation 2003;5(4):381-397. R830633 (Final)
    R827015C018 (Final)
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Abstract: Informaworld
  • Journal Article Ziegler SE, White PM, Wolf DC, Thoma GJ. Tracking the fate and recycling of 13C-labeled glucose in soil. Soil Science 2005;170(10):767-778. R830633 (Final)
  • Abstract: Soil Science Abstract
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    oil, US EPA, regulations, brine spills, oil spills, remediation, MTBE, BTEX, biocorrosion, silt fences, technology transfer, nematodes, brine scar, groundwater, soil, DNAPL, NAPL, ecosystem, indicators, restoration, bioremediation, environmental chemistry, biology, engineering, ecology, petroleum,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, TREATMENT/CONTROL, Waste, Sustainable Industry/Business, Sustainable Environment, Treatment Technologies, Remediation, Environmental Chemistry, Technology for Sustainable Environment, decontamination, environmental technology, contaminated sediments, petroleum contaminated soil, environmental sustainability, petrochemicals, petroleum industry, remediation technologies, ecological impacts, environmental regulations, environmental education, bioremediation

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2003
  • 2004
  • 2005
  • 2006
  • Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R830633C001 Development of an Environmentally Friendly and Economical Process for Plugging Abandoned Wells (Phase II)
    R830633C002 A Continuation of Remediation of Brine Spills with Hay
    R830633C003 Effective Stormwater and Sediment Control During Pipeline Construction Using a New Filter Fence Concept
    R830633C004 Evaluation of Sub-micellar Synthetic Surfactants versus Biosurfactants for Enhanced LNAPL Recovery
    R830633C005 Utilization of the Carbon and Hydrogen Isotopic Composition of Individual Compounds in Refined Hydrocarbon Products To Monitor Their Fate in the Environment
    R830633C006 Evaluation of Commercial, Microbial-Based Products to Treat Paraffin Deposition in Tank Bottoms and Oil Production Equipment
    R830633C007 Identifying the Signature of the Natural Attenuation in the Microbial Ecology of Hydrocarbon Contaminated Groundwater Using Molecular Methods and “Bug Traps”
    R830633C008 Using Plants to Remediate Petroleum-Contaminated Soil: Project Continuation
    R830633C009 Use of Earthworms to Accelerate the Restoration of Oil and Brine Impacted Sites