Martha Reclamation Program: Dump and Run

Toxic Soup: Ashland's Radioactive Sludge Pits

Toxic Soup: Radiation at Blaine Elementary School

Saturday, November 28, 2009

History of the Martha Oil Field

We know a little bit about the history of the area and would like to share it with you.  The village of Martha was named after Martha Skaggs, nee Cothron, a Cherokee who married Peter Skaggs in Virginia in 1788.  They moved to the “head of Blaine” in Lawrence County, Kentucky in 1804.  Martha Skaggs died in 1865 in Martha.

The Martha Oil Field was discovered in 1919 and produced roughly 19 million barrels of oil prior to 1955 when a waterflood project was begun by Ashland Oil to extract more oil.  Over 6 million barrels of oil was recovered using water injection between 1955 and 1970.  At this point, Ashland estimated an additional 30 million barrels of oil remained to be recovered by injection of brine and inert gas.  They considered the Martha Oil Field to be an opportunity to test the field-wide application of these enhanced oil recovery techniques.

Unfortunately the oil in the Martha Oil Field lies in Devonian shale, which contains low-level concentrations of radium-226, a radioactive element (naturally occurring radioactive material, N.O.R.M.) with a half-life of 1600 years.  Radium-226 is highly water soluble.  The water, brine and inert gas injections into the Devonian shale concentrated the radium-226 and brought it to the surface where the oil was separated from the brine.  The radioactive brine was dumped into sludge pits and disposed of in Blaine Creek.  As a result, oil wells, pressure wells, tank batteries, sludge pits and disposal pathways were contaminated with concentrated radioactive material.  Also, pipes and tanks that were in prolonged contact with the radioactive material were contaminated and strewn about the oil field.

The radiation contamination was discovered in 1988 when pipes hauled from Ashland Inc. tripped a scrap yard’s radiation detectors.  Ashland contended the radiation was harmless and began removing old pipes and tons of contaminated soil from the area to a designated disposal site.  Area residents claimed their health and property were at risk and filed lawsuits against Ashland Oil.

Ashland Oil Exploration merged with Marathon Oil in 1998 to form Marathon Ashland Petroleum, LLC.  In 2005 Ashland sold its share in Marathon Ashland Petroleum to Marathon Oil to exit the petroleum business.

We can’t imagine that Marathon Oil took on Ashland’s liabilities without proper due diligence, therefore Marathon should move to settle with the local residents and clean up this mess.  Do the right thing, Marathon!

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