A surfactant/foam process is described for the remediation of aquifers contaminated with dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL). Foam is used for mobility control to displace DNAPL from low permeability sands that are often unswept during a remediation process.


An area where the technology developed for enhanced oil recovery can be applied to environmental remediation is the application of surfactant to remove nonaqueous phase liquid (NAPL) from aquifers. NAPL can be of two types, those which are less dense than water, called light nonaqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) and those which are more dense than water, called dense nonaqueous phase liquid (DNAPL). We concentrate on DNAPL because there are fewer viable alternatives to surfactant remediation. DNAPL will tend to migrate to the lowest accessible point in the aquifer and to enter lower permeability sediments if the capillary pressure becomes large enough. The challenge is to remove DNAPL from local depressions along the base of an aquifer and from low permeability layers in the presence of higher permeability layers.

An approach to improve the sweep efficiency of a displacement process is to use mobility control so that the injected fluid is less mobile than the resident fluids. The common method of mobility control for surfactant flooding is through the generation of an inherently viscous microemulsion phase and through the addition of a polymer. However, Lawson and Reisberg introduced the concept of injecting gas with the surfactant solution to generate an in situ foam for mobility control. This approach has not been as popular because the mobility of foam is not as predictable as with polymers. However, much has been learned about the mobility of foam since that time and some publications on the use of foam for mobility control of surfactant flooding have appeared. Also foam has the potential of selectively reducing the mobility more in higher permeability layers in contact with lower permeability layers.

Site Characterization

The location for a field test of the surfactant/foam process for aquifer remediation is Hill Air Force Base near Ogden, Utah. This base has been the test site of many remediation technologies during 1996. The Operable Unit 2 (OU2) is a waste disposal site where unlined earthen trenches were used from 1967 to 1975 for the disposal of spent liquid degreasing solvents (primarily trichloroethylene). OU2 is currently being treated by "pump and treat" where the DNAPL and ground water are pumped out and the organic material removed by sedimentation and steam stripping. However, pump and treat treatment alone would have to continue for a very long time because of the low solubility of the contaminants in water and the large volume of DNAPL existing in pools and as a residual saturation. A surfactant flood without mobility control was conducted successfully by INTERA and the University of Texas at a site adjacent to where the surfactant/foam is to be tested. A steam flood test in an adjacent site is planned in the near future.

Aquifer structure

A structure map of the base of the unconfined aquifer is shown in Fig. 1. The aquifer consists of coarse-grained, unconsolidated sediments of recent alluvium and/or Provo Formation. It is about 50 ft thick and the water table is about 25 ft below ground level. The aquifer is underlain by more than 100 ft of the clay dominated Alpine Formation. This formation will be called the "aquitard". The structure of the aquitard and the water table helps to keep the aquifer confined in a trough or channel. Fig. 2 is a cross section along the long axis of the channel. The disposal trenches were located somewhere near the southern end of this cross-section. P. 471

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