National Crude Oil Spill Research Site in Bemidji, Minnesota

The National Crude Oil Spill Research Site dates back to 1979, when a dramatic 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.

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.

National Crude Oil Spill Research Site

In 2008 and 2009, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), Enbridge Energy LLC, the USGS and Beltrami County created several agreements to formally establish the “National Crude Oil Spill Research Site in Bemidji, Minn.” The objective of these agreements is to create a self-sustaining research facility that brings academic researchers and practitioners (consultants, petroleum and pipeline industry representatives and regulators) together thereby linking novel ideas to practical, on-the-ground applications.

Aerial image of crude oil research site, Bemidji, Minnesota

Site access and grants

The MPCA, Enbridge Energy LLC, USGS and Beltrami County approve both site access and grants for research conducted at the National Crude Oil Spill Research Site in Bemidji. Grant awards totaling $116,000 have been approved from 2009 through 2013, with the average grant award being $5,000. The successful proposals have also provided more than $180,000 in supplemental funds from third parties. Additional grant funds totaling $150,000 are available for the 2012-17 period.

Site research

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, you are advised to consult with industry, academic and trade organizations as well as review previous research conducted at the site available on the USGS Web site. Examples of research include but are not limited to:

  • Investigation of the natural attenuation of groundwater contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.
  • Investigation of the behavior and fate of vapors in the unsaturated zone above petroleum hydrocarbon contaminated soil and groundwater.
  • Development and testing of methods for investigation and remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon contaminated sites.
  • Development and testing of alternative or enhanced in-situ remediation strategies.
  • Investigation of ecological impacts.
  • Other relevant environmental research

Site videos

National Crude Oil Spill Research Site - North Pool

National Crude Oil Spill Research Site - Middle and South Pools

National Crude Oil Spill Research Site - Spray Zone

National Crude Oil Spill Research Site – GeoProbe & Drill Rig with Freeze Shoe

2012 symposium

The National Crude Oil Spill Research Site in conjunction with the American Petroleum Institute also held a national symposium in 2012 aimed at highlighting the research completed at the site, bridging the gap between researchers and real world situations and providing a forum to identify future site research opportunities.

Additional Resources

Staff contact

If you have questions or wish to receive updates regarding the grant process, research opportunities or symposium please contact Jim McCann at, or 651-757-2159.