Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Groundwater quality of aquifers overlying the Oxnard Oil Field, Ventura County, California

January 26, 2021

Groundwater samples collected from irrigation, monitoring, and municipal supply wells near the Oxnard Oil Field were analyzed for chemical and isotopic tracers to evaluate if thermogenic gas or water from hydrocarbon-bearing formations have mixed with surrounding groundwater. New and historical data show no evidence of water from hydrocarbon-bearing formations in groundwater overlying the field. However, thermogenic gas mixed with microbial methane was detected in 5 wells at concentrations ranging from 0.011–9.1 mg/L. The presence of these gases at concentrations <10 mg/L do not indicate degraded water quality posing a known health risk. Analysis of carbon isotopes (δ13C-CH4) and hydrogen isotopes (δ2H-CH4) of methane and ratios of methane to heavier hydrocarbon gases were used to differentiate sources of methane between a) microbial, b) thermogenic or c) mixed sources. Results indicate that microbial-sourced methane is widespread in the study area, and concentrations overlap with those from thermogenic sources. The highest concentrations of thermogenic gas were observed in proximity to relatively high density of oil wells, large injection volumes of water disposal and cyclic steam, shallow oil development, and hydrocarbon shows in sediments overlying the producing oil reservoirs. Depths of water wells containing thermogenic gas were within approximately 200 m of the top of the Vaca Tar Sand production zone (approximately 600 m below land surface). Due to the limited sampling density, the source and pathways of thermogenic gas detected in groundwater could not be conclusively determined. Thermogenic gas detected in the absence of co-occurring water from hydrocarbon-bearing formations may result from natural gas migration over geologic time from the Vaca Tar Sand or deeper formations, hydrocarbon shows in sediments overlying producing zones, and/or gas leaking from oil-field infrastructure. Denser sampling of groundwater, potential end-members, and pressure monitoring could help better distinguish pathways of thermogenic gases.