Challenges to Restoring a Former Petroleum Site

Challenges to Restoring a Former Petroleum Site image
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While restoring a petroleum brownfield can preserve green space and provide development opportunities, there are a variety of challenges that must be considered before safely beginning such a project.

Petroleum brownfield restoration or remediation is the process of cleaning and restoring areas that have been contaminated by petroleum products or hydrocarbons. Sites like abandoned gas stations or legacy oil and natural gas facilities may be good candidates for such a project. 

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), of the estimated 450,000 brownfield sites in the United States, nearly half are affected by petroleum products. As petroleum can easily contaminate groundwater, there is increased pressure to restore these sites.  

This option has gained popularity in recent years, particularly where housing and green space are scarce. Repurposing oil and gas sites for commercial or residential use capitalizes on existing space in these areas with diminishing resources. However, this is an undertaking that requires thorough risk assessment, use of mitigation techniques, and liability management. 

Steps to a Successful Petroleum Remediation

The petroleum remediation process often involves these steps:  

  • Notification of petroleum or oil discharge to the land or groundwater 
  • Initial response to stop the ongoing release and mitigate any long-term impacts 
  • Site investigation to define the nature and extent of petroleum contamination
  • Remediating the contamination in the land or groundwater 
  • Provide ongoing groundwater monitoring to collect updated information  
  • Work closely with regulators and stakeholders, and supervising subcontractors 
  • Achieve site closure, or the result of remediation when all contamination is eliminated, or the risk is properly addressed 

Common Challenges to Petroleum Site Restoration

Throughout this process, it is crucial to acknowledge and prepare for common challenges that can arise when restoring a petroleum brownfield site. 

  1. Scale and Scope of Contamination: Contamination can cover cast areas of land or bodies of water. To avoid risks to human and environmental health, it is necessary to consider the scaled of contamination and restore all affected areas within the area. 
  2. Environmental Impact: Oil and gas releases can have severe and long-lasting effects on ecosystems and can lead to decreased biodiversity in the affected areas. It is important to consider if contamination has damaged water resources or irreversibly damaged wildlife, and other environmental factors. 
  3. Technological Limitations: While there have been advances in remediation technologies, no single method is universally effective. Selecting the appropriate cleanup method depends on the type of release, location, weather conditions, and affected resources. Potential technologies include in situ technology (e.g., activated carbon, bioremediation, and/or chemical oxidation), air sparging, and soil vapor extraction (SVE).
  4. Weather and Environmental Conditions: Wind, waves, and currents can significantly affect the success of cleanup operations. Unfavorable weather can disperse the contaminant, as well as the effectiveness of the remedial method
  5. Access to Affected Areas: If contaminants are found in remote or hard-to-reach areas, it can be challenging for response teams to access and remediate the contamination. 
  6. Health and Safety Concerns: Anyone on a petroleum brownfield site could be exposed to toxic fumes, chemicals, and physical hazards if proper precautions and/or engineering and institutional controls are not implemented. Remediation crews must recieve appropriate training and equipment to complete the project safely and effectively. 
  7. Technical Expertise: Effective petroleum contaminate site restoration requires specialized knowledge and expertise in various technical fields, including environmental science, engineering, chemistry, and biology and a thorough understanding of regulatory drivers. Working with a third-party consultant like Cameron-Cole ensures access to necessary expertise under the umbrella of one team.
  8. Cost: The restoration process can be costly, with expenses including equipment, personnel, monitoring, and long-term environmental assessments. Determining which parties are financially responsible for the cleanup can also be complex. The average cost for cleanups ranges from $400,000 to $1.9 million, depending on size and scope, according to the EPA. An experienced consultant can help research available funding sources to reduce overall stakeholder costs. 
  9. Long-Term Monitoring and Management: Even after the initial cleanup, it is necessary to assess the recovery of the affected ecosystem and address any potential residue contamination for years to come. Institutional and engineering controls are used to identify long-term stewardship requirements, or the necessary activities to achieve site closure.
  10. Public and Stakeholder Concerns: Contamination usually attracts public and stakeholder attention, leading to pressure on authorities and organizations to respond. While meeting these expectations and managing technical challenges can be demanding, timely and clear communication is key to gaining public trust and cooperation. A third-party consultant can help ensure your communication is most effective.

Addressing the challenges associated with a petroleum brownfield restoration project requires a coordinated effort between project stakeholders, funding sources, government agencies, the general public, and environmental experts. 

While the restoration process can be complicated, the many financial, environmental, and social benefits often outweigh the challenges. Working with a team of technical experts can give you a clear path forward in repurposing a petroleum site into a new housing or commercial development, allowing your project to run efficiently, and ultimately improving the quality of life for those in your community. 

Cameron-Cole, an ADEC Innovation, specializes in assisting our clients with complex environmental liabilities through environmental remediation. Contact us for a free consultation to discuss your plans for remediating brownfields.

Blog Author

John Bondurant
John Bondurant
John is an experienced manager of subsurface investigations at hundreds of petroleum and hazardous waste sites throughout the Southeast with an emphasis in Florida. He has extensive experience in brownfield and other property redevelopment projects including leading environmental assessments for commercial property transactions and management of construction and remediation projects. John is the founder and leader of Cameron-Cole’s Pensacola branch operations and manages Pensacola’s financial and personnel operations

Operating with significant environmental liabilities and risks presents a constant potential for complications to arise. Don't let these dilemmas hinder your organization. Cameron-Cole's environmental experts are trained to craft solutions that reduce your risks while keeping your projects on track.