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Oil degradation in soil.

Publication Date
  • Research Article
  • Earth Science
  • Ecology
  • Geography
  • Physics


The environmental effects of adding certain selected petroleum products to field soils at widely separated geographical locations under optimum conditions for biodegradation were studied. The locations selected for study of soil biodegradation of six oils (used crankcase oil from cars, used crankcase oil from trucks, an Arabian Heavy crude oil, a Coastal Mix crude oil, a home heating oil no. 2, and a residual fuel oil no. 6) were Marcus Hook, Pennsylvania, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Corpus Christi, Texas. The investigative process, covering a period of 1 year at each location, was conducted in 14 fields plots (1.7 by 3.0 m) to which the oils were added in a single application at a rate of 11.9 m3/4 X 10(3) m2. One-half of the plots at each location were fertilized, and the incorporation of the oils and fertilizers was accomplished with rototillers to a depth of 10 to 15 cm. Concentrations of all oils decreased significantly at all locations. The average reduction ranged from 48.5 to 90.0% depending upon the type of oil and location. Rates of degradation did not exceed 2.4 m3/4 X 10(3) m2 per month. Compositional changes in the oil with time were investigated using silica gel fractionation, gas chromatography, and ultraviolet absorbance. With the possible exception of the two fuel oils, the compositional changes were generally in the same direction for all of the oils. The silica gel fractionation and gravimetric data on residual oils show that all classes of compounds were degraded, but the more polar type degrade more slowly. Analysis of runoff water, leachate, and soils indicated that at the concentration applied no oil less was observed from these plots via water movement. No significant movement of lead compounds added to the soils in the used crankcase oils was observed. Significant increases in hydrocarbon-utilizing microorganisms were demonstrated in all treated plots using either the pure hydrocarbon, n-hexadecane, or the applied oils as the growth substrate. These increases were usually sustained throughout the year. Significant increases in hydrocarbon-utilizing fungi were not demonstrated by the plating technique used. The concentrations of residual oils or their oxidation products were of sufficient magnitude in the treated plots, 9 months after application, to cause significant inhibition of plant growth. From the data obtained, it was not possible to determine the type of compounds causing this inhibition or their long-term environmental effects.

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