California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program

Publication: Reports and Papers


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Flowers, M.D., Shimabukuro, D.H., Stephens, M.J., Warden, J.G., Gillespie, J.M., and Chang, W.


Environmental Earth Sciences, v. 81, p. 317


This paper documents a reversal in the groundwater salinity depth gradient in the North Coles Levee Oil Field in the San Joaquin Valley, California. Salinity, measured in mg/L, was mapped with water quality data from groundwater and oil and gas wells and salinity estimated from oil and gas well borehole geophysical logs using Archie's equation. The resulting three-dimensional salinity volume shows groundwater salinity increasing with depth through the Tulare and San Joaquin Formations to about 50,000 mg/L at 1100 m depth, then decreasing to 10,000–31,000 mg/L in the Etchegoin Formation at 1400 m depth. The high salinity zone occurs near the base of the San Joaquin Formation in sand lenses in shales that have been interpreted as representing a mudflat environment. The groundwater and produced water geochemistry show formation waters lie on the seawater dilution line, indicating the salinity structure is largely the result of dilution or evaporation of seawater and not due to water–rock interactions. Instead, changing depositional environments linked to decreasing sea level may be responsible for variably saline water at or near the time of deposition, leading to a salinity reversal preserved in connate waters. The steepness of the salinity reversal varies laterally, possibly due to post-depositional freshwater recharge allowed by thick sands, alternatively, by a change in connate water composition due to a lateral facies change present at the time of deposition. These results illustrate geologic and paleogeographic processes that drive the vertical salinity structure of groundwater in shallow alluvial basins.