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Shortchained alkylphenols (SCAP) represent a main constituent of crude oil and coal liquefaction products. Due to their specific oil/water partitioning behaviour and high aqueous solubility they can be detected in oil exploitation waters and groundwaters affected by various spills near oil pipelines, oil exploitation sites and coal liquefaction plants. New efficient and powerful analytical techniques have been developed that allow the identification of all 34 individual compounds (C0-C3) without derivatisation and in complex matrices. Due to the different physico-chemical properties of the SCAP, differential transport behaviour in groundwater can be observed, changing the relative concentrations of SCAP downgradient in space and time. These characteristic ratios can be employed to derive information on migration direction and the ageing of the source of contamination. A case study is presented to illustrate the use of this new tool.