Blogs > Sun Insider

News and quick-hit commentary from around mid-Michigan ... from the Morning Sun.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Coldwater crude?

Wednesday’s anonymous Sound Off item from Coldwater Township complaining about an alleged action by the Isabella County Road Commission obviously was based on a gross misinterpretation of the facts.

The caller claimed that road workers dumped crude oil on the road, then scraped the road in an effort to clean up what they’d done.

That’s ludicrous, but I can understand how a semi-informed ordinary person, ready to think the worst about a government agency, could come to that conclusion.

Dumping crude oil? Decades ago, road oiling was common practice in some jurisdictions as a means to reduce dust from gravel roads. It hasn’t been legal for many, many years; the oil runs off into groundwater and surface water.

The intentional dumping of crude oil on the ground would be a criminal violation of environmental laws. The road commission might not be real good at communicating, but its management certainly knows enough not to commit this kind of act.

So what was it? Oil field brine, probably a pretty greasy batch.

Mid-Michigan still produces a substantial amount of petroleum. Much of the oil underlying this area is in rock formations that trapped ancient seawater along with the oil. Many wells might bring up five or 10 barrels of salt water for every barrel of oil pumped.

That byproduct of oil production isn’t good for much, but it turns out to be an extremely cost-effective means of dust control. It’s cheap, it works, and for some reason, it has the added benefit of making a gravel road much less likely to melt down in the spring thaw.

The Isabella County Road Commission has a general permit from the Department of Environmental Quality to spread the stuff.

But wait a minute. The caller said the stuff “stunk real bad.” That’s probably right. The chemical that gives crude its distinctive bad smell is sulfur, and trace amounts of sulfur compounds are easily detectable by the human nose. The chemical gets dissolved in the brine, and it doesn’t smell good at all.

Oil field brine also often is dark in color, similar to crude. It’s easy to see how our reader might have been confused.

As far as scraping after the brine treatment, well, grading the road surface before treatment would have raised a lot of dust. Generally, most townships pay for two treatments over the course of a summer.

Maybe the next batch of brine won’t smell so bad. And if it really was crude oil and a criminal act took place, please contact me. Coldwater Township is a big place.

Comments? E-mail them to me so you can become part of the discussion. I'll post most reasonable comments. Just make sure you include your name, address and telephone number, so I can follow up if necessary. I won’t post your personal information, but I want to know who I’m dealing with.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home