Soil Heating and Fire Effects

Soil heating and fire effects resulting from in situ oil spill burning.

When petroleum is spilled on land, clean up can be difficult. Sites may be inaccessible to mechanical containment, recovery, and clean up, and the equipment may cause environmental damage. In situ burning may be a valuable alternative for removing spilled petroleum from land.

Although in situ burning of spilled oil may be a useful tool, its effects on vegetative communities and long-term site recovery are important concerns. Burning oil may produce temperatures that heat soils. This soil heating may affect the soil’s ability to supply water and nutrient needed by plants. This study investigates the effects of burning petroleum fuel oil (diesel) and crude oil on soils. Laboratory burning of soil monoliths (vertical slices of undisturbed soil ) was conducted at three soil moisture levels. Results from this study will improve understanding of the soil temperature distribution during burning and corresponding effects on soil respiration.


In situ controlled burn in Iberville Parish, LA
(Credit: U.S. Coast Guard)
In situ controlled burn of crude oil in Mountrail County, North Dakota
(Credit: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)
Example of Soil Monlith used in burning experiments Photo: In situ controlled burn in Iberville Parish, LA

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Soil Heating and Fire Effects Resulting from In Situ Oil Spill Burning (video)

Prediction of Soil Heating Resulting from Oil Spill In-Situ Burning, James Reardon and Edward J. O’Donnell, Proceedings of the 36th Artic and Marine Oilspill Program (AMOP) Technical Seminar on Environmental Contamination and Response, Halifax, Nova Scotia, May 2013