Geochemical evidence for Alberta Oil Sands contamination in sediments remote to known oil sands deposits in Alberta, Canada

Becky McCerery*, Onoriode Esegbue, Martin Jones, Kate Winter, Glen McHale, John Woodward

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Oil spills and natural oil seeps are sources of petrogenic hydrocarbons in soils and sediments. To determine the source of hydrocarbon contamination in the environment the geochemical signature of the contaminant needs to be characterised. Here, we present biomarker and other molecular marker diagnostic ratios of Alberta Oil Sands using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry to characterise the deposits and detect their incorporation in surficial sediments. Diagnostic ratios of steranes, terpanes, and aromatic steroids (e.g. C27, C28, and C29 regular sterane abundance, Gammacerane Index, Ts/Tm, TAS/(TAS + MAS), and MPI-2) were measured in samples of Alberta Oil Sands providing a set of criteria for their identification. Seven surficial sediment samples from central and southeast Alberta were then analysed using these criteria to detect Alberta Oil Sands contamination and other petrogenic and pyrogenic source inputs. Geochemical signatures consistent with Alberta Oil Sands hydrocarbons were identified in surficial sediments in Lamont County and glacial sediments from a moraine in Beaver County. Both sites are in Central Alberta, ∼300 km south of any oil sands extraction sites and natural exposures in northern Alberta, indicating long-distance sediment transport processes mobilised the deposits. These results show that the oil sands have been eroded and transported beyond the boundaries of their current known limits. This is important for understanding sediment transport processes as well as for remediation and reclamation purposes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-149
Number of pages21
JournalEnvironmental Forensics
Issue number3
Early online date10 Jun 2023
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2024

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