California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program

Publication: Reports and Papers


Year Published:

Publication Information:


Tyne, R.L., Barry, P.H., Karolyte, R., Byrne, D.J., Kulongoski, J.T.,Hillegonds, D.J., and Ballentine, C.J.


Chemical Geology, v. 584



In regions where water resources are scarce and in high demand, it is important to safeguard against contamination of groundwater aquifers by oil-field fluids (water, gas, oil). In this context, the geochemical characterisation of these fluids is critical so that anthropogenic contaminants can be readily identified. The first step is characterising pre-development geochemical fluid signatures (i.e., those unmodified by hydrocarbon resource development) and understanding how these signatures may have been perturbed by resource production, particularly in the context of enhanced oil recovery (EOR) techniques. Here, we present noble gas isotope data in fluids produced from oil wells in several water-stressed regions in California, USA, where EOR is prevalent. In oil-field systems, only casing gases are typically collected and measured for their noble gas compositions, even when oil and/or water phases are present, due to the relative ease of gas analyses. However, this approach relies on a number of assumptions (e.g., equilibrium between phases, water-to-oil ratio (WOR) and gas-to-oil ratio (GOR) in order to reconstruct the multiphase subsurface compositions. Here, we adopt a novel, more rigorous approach, and measure noble gases in both casing gas and produced fluid (oil-water-gas mixtures) samples from the Lost Hills, Fruitvale, North and South Belridge (San Joaquin Basin, SJB) and Orcutt (Santa Maria Basin) Oil Fields. Using this method, we are able to fully characterise the distribution of noble gases within a multiphase hydrocarbon system. We find that measured concentrations in the casing gases agree with those in the gas phase in the produced fluids and thus the two sample types can be used essentially interchangeably.