California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program
Publication: Reports and Papers
Geochemical data from 40 water wells were used to examine the occurrence and sources of radium (Ra) in groundwater associated with three oil fields in California (Fruitvale, Lost Hills, South Belridge). 226Ra+228Ra activities (range = 0.010–0.51 Bq/L) exceeded the 0.185 Bq/L drinking-water standard in 18% of the wells (not drinking-water wells). Radium activities were correlated with TDS concentrations (p < 0.001, ρ = 0.90, range = 145–15,900 mg/L), Mn + Fe concentrations (p < 0.001, ρ = 0.82, range = <0.005–18.5 mg/L), and pH (p < 0.001, ρ = −0.67, range = 6.2–9.2), indicating Ra in groundwater was influenced by salinity, redox, and pH. Ra-rich groundwater was mixed with up to 45% oil-field water at some locations, primarily infiltrating through unlined disposal ponds, based on Cl, Li, noble-gas, and other data. Yet 228Ra/226Ra ratios in pond-impacted groundwater (median = 3.1) differed from those in oil-field water (median = 0.51). PHREEQC mixing calculations and spatial geochemical variations suggest that the Ra in the oil-field water was removed by coprecipitation with secondary barite and adsorption on Mn–Fe precipitates in the near-pond environment. The saline, organic-rich oil-field water subsequently mobilized Ra from downgradient aquifer sediments via Ra-desorption and Mn/Fe-reduction processes. This study demonstrates that infiltration of oil-field water may leach Ra into groundwater by changing salinity and redox conditions in the subsurface rather than by mixing with a high-Ra source.