California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program
Publication: Reports and Papers
Wright, Michael T., McMahon, Peter B., Landon, Matthew K., and Kulongoski, Justin T.
Applied Geochemistry, v. 106, p. 82-95
Due to concerns over the effects of oil production activities on groundwater quality in California, chemical, isotopic, dissolved gas and age-dating tracers were analyzed in samples collected from public-supply wells and produced-water sites in the Fruitvale oil field (FVOF). A combination of newly collected and historical data was used to determine whether oil formation fluids have mixed with groundwater used for public supply and what the potential pathways for the migration of oil formation fluids into groundwater may be. Stable isotopes of water (δ2H and δ18O) and age dating (3H, 3Hetrit, SF6 and 14C) tracers in groundwater samples were consistent with the Kern River being the main source of recharge to aquifers. The distribution of major ion concentrations and pH with distance from the Kern River indicate that natural processes were the primary controls on groundwater salinity. Two of 14 groundwater samples had δ13C-DIC values (−2.4 to +1.9 per mil) consistent with mixtures of <1 to about 9 percent oil-field water. Concentrations of TDS in groundwater samples were generally much lower (129–1,200 milligrams per liter (mg/l), median 216 mg/l) than produced water samples (586–24,930 mg/l, median 2,717 mg/l), suggesting that any mixing of oil-field water with groundwater has not significantly affected groundwater salinity. Trace concentrations of thermogenic methane were detected in three groundwater samples that did not have dissolved inorganic or isotopic indicators consistent with mixing of oil-field water, suggesting that stray gases may have migrated from the subsurface via preferential pathways such as leaky well bores into groundwater aquifers. Low concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons were detected in samples that also contained anthropogenic VOCs and components of post- and pre-1950s recharge, indicating that petroleum hydrocarbons could have come from subsurface and/or surface sources. Overall, the results of this study indicated that groundwater currently used for public supply in the FVOF was of good quality with little, if any, effects from oil production activities. This may be due in part to the relatively rapid flushing of the aquifer system by recharge from the Kern River.