California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program

Publication: Reports and Papers


Year Published:

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Gillespie, J.M., Stephens, M.J., Chang, W., and Warden, J.


PLoS One, v. 17, no. 3, e0263477



The effects of oil and gas production on adjacent groundwater quality are becoming a concern in many areas of the United States. As a result, it has become increasingly important to identify which aquifers require monitoring and protection. In this study, we map the extent of groundwater with less than 10,000 mg/L TDS both laterally and vertically near the Elk Hills, Buena Vista and Coles Levee Oil Fields in the San Joaquin Valley, California and note evidence of effects of produced water disposal on salinity within the Tulare aquifer. Subsurface maps showing the depth at which groundwater salinity is less than 10,000 mg/L (or Base 10K) in the Tulare aquifer are generated using geophysical logs and verified by comparison to water sample analyses. The depth to Base 10K ranges from 240 m (800 ft) in Elk Hills to 800 m (2650 ft) in the adjacent Buena Vista syncline and is 670 m (2,200 ft) deep in the Coles Levee area to the east. Log-calculated salinities show a relatively smooth increase with depth prior to disposal activities whereas salinities calculated from logs collected near and after disposal activities show a more variable salinity profile with depth. The effect of produced water injection is represented by log resistivity profiles that change from low resistivity at the base of the sand to higher resistivity near the top due to density differences between the saline produced water and the brackish groundwater within each sand. Continued post-disposal logging in new wells in the 18G disposal area on the south flank of Elk Hills shows that injected water has migrated approximately 1,200 m (4,000 ft) downdip (south) over a period of 20 years since the inception of disposal activity.