California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater Program

Publication: Reports and Papers


Year Published:

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Davis, T. A., Landon, M. K. and Bennett, G. L. V.


U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2018-5065



The California State Water Resources Control Board initiated a regional monitoring program in July 2015 to determine where and to what degree groundwater quality may be adversely impacted by oil and gas development activities. A key issue in the implementation of the regional groundwater monitoring program is that each year, detailed characterization work can be done in only a few of California’s 487 onshore oil and gas fields. The first step in monitoring groundwater near petroleum development is to prioritize oil and gas fields using consistent statewide analysis of available data that indicate potential risk of groundwater to oil and gas development.

The U.S. Geological Survey compiled data for four factors that characterize the intensity of petroleum resource development and proximity to groundwater resources: petroleum-well density, volume of water injected in oil fields, vertical proximity of groundwater resources to oil and gas resource development, and water-well density. An overall priority ranking for each field was determined by computing summary metrics, analyzing statewide distributions of summary metrics for all oil and gas fields, using those distributions to define relative categories of potential risk for each factor, and combining relative risk rankings for different factors into an overall priority ranking. This preliminary assessment does not represent an evaluation of groundwater risk to oil and gas development, which needs to be based on detailed analysis and data related to development activities including well stimulation, well integrity issues, produced water ponds, and underground injection.

Based on the prioritization analysis, 22 percent (107 fields) of the total number of oil and gas fields in California were ranked as high priority, 23 percent (114 fields) as moderate priority, and 55 percent (266 fields) as low priority. These results indicate that between 100 and 200 oil fields are principal candidates for the next steps in the regional monitoring program. The land area of fields that ranked high priority accounted for 41 percent of the total field area (3,392 square miles). More than half of the high priority fields were in the southern San Joaquin Valley and the Los Angeles Basin. Some of the larger fields tended to have higher rankings because of greater intensity of petroleum development, sometimes coupled with proximity to groundwater resources.

The U.S. Geological Survey, in collaboration with the California State Water Resources Control Board and other agencies, has begun regional groundwater monitoring near oil and gas fields selected for study through the California Oil, Gas, and Groundwater cooperative program. Groundwater monitoring includes compiling, analyzing, and developing three-dimensional visualizations of existing data, including geological frameworks, salinity mapping, identification of surface features that could potentially affect groundwater quality, locations and depths of oil/gas and water wells, cataloging well-construction integrity issues, and evaluating the directions of groundwater flow. These analyses are required to determine where existing wells should be monitored and where new monitoring wells may need to be drilled.