We have a unique opportunity to study the effect of crude oil on our land at the National Crude Oil Spill Research Site. In 1979, a pipeline rupture released 10,000 barrels of crude petroleum to the land surface and shallow subsurface. In 1983, research began at the site through the support of the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Toxic Substances Hydrology Program.

In 2008 and 2009, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Enbridge Energy LLC, the USGS, and Beltrami County made several agreements to formally create a self-sustaining research facility that brings together academic researchers and practitioners (consultants, petroleum and pipeline industry representatives, and regulators) to link novel ideas to practical, on-the-ground applications.

Continuing USGS support has allowed hundreds of scientists from across the globe to visit this “underground observatory” and study the effects of a terrestrial crude oil spill including the physical, chemical, and biological processes driving the degradation and transport of crude petroleum. Research from the site has been included in more than 200 scientific papers.

Site access and grants

Each year in November, the MPCA, USGS Upper Midwest Water Science Center, Enbridge Energy LP, and Beltrami County solicit proposals for projects to be conducted at the spill site. Total available funding is typically $25,000 per year, and proposals up to $15,000 will be considered; typical awards range from $2,000 to $5,000. Before developing a proposal, please reach out to the site manager to get connected with resources and data available at the site.

The primary research priority is improving the understanding of the mobilization, attenuation, transport, remediation, and fate of petroleum hydrocarbons in the subsurface. As you consider research proposals, consult with industry, academic and trade organizations and review previous research conducted at the site available on the USGS Web site.

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