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Groundwater quality near the Montebello Oil Field, Los Angeles County, California

February 6, 2023

Groundwater quality and potential sources and migration pathways of chemical constituents associated with hydrocarbon-bearing formations were assessed by the U.S. Geological Survey for the California State Water Resources Control Board Oil and Gas Regional Monitoring Program (RMP). Groundwater samples were collected as part of the RMP from 21 preexisting wells used for public supply, monitoring, or irrigation in and near the Montebello Oil Field and analyzed for constituents associated with hydrocarbon-bearing formations and constituents used to identify recently recharged groundwater and older groundwater. The newly collected RMP data were supplemented with historical sample data from 849 groundwater wells and analyzed with respect to explanatory factors that have the potential to influence water quality. Potential sources and migration pathways of fluids (water, gas, or oil) from hydrocarbon-bearing formations that could affect groundwater quality in the Montebello Oil Field include large volumes of recycled produced water (water withdrawn from an oil well and brought to the surface that may include oil, water, and gas from the geologic formation and water or gas injected for enhanced recovery) that have been reinjected since the 1960s to enhance oil production, oil and gas wells with well-integrity issues, and oil and gas wells with an uncemented annulus that intersects groundwater resource zones.
Trace amounts of dissolved petroleum hydrocarbons, thermogenic gas (propane through pentane range), or both, were detected in seven groundwater samples collected in 2014 and 2018 as part of the RMP. Five of those samples also contained manufactured volatile organic compounds and at least some modern-age groundwater (recharged during or after 1953), indicating that the hydrocarbons could have originated from surficial, or shallow, sources unrelated to oil and gas development. Two samples contained low concentrations of petroleum hydrocarbons (less than 0.1 microgram per liter) and did not contain detections of manufactured volatile organic compounds in pre-modern groundwater. These samples were collected from relatively deep wells (greater than 140 meters below land surface) with perforations completed in marine sediments that may contain water with similar compositions to produced water.
The RMP sample results and available historical data in and near the Montebello Oil Field did not provide conclusive evidence that oil and gas development has adversely affected groundwater resources. All samples with detectable petroleum hydrocarbons, thermogenic gases, or both, were collected from sites that also are within 500 meters of anthropogenic hydrocarbon sources not associated with oil and gas development or sources. In addition, naturally occurring sources of hydrocarbons that exist at intervals shallower than, or are in areas outside of, economically productive oil- and gas-producing zones could affect groundwater quality.
A definitive analysis of relations of groundwater quality to potential anthropogenic and natural explanatory factors was not possible because of the low density of new and historical sampling data, particularly in parts of the Montebello Oil Field where the largest relative risks to groundwater from hydrocarbon-bearing formations exist. Areas to consider for more detailed monitoring and analysis in the future that may present the largest relative potential risks to groundwater quality include (1) areas downgradient from historical surface ponds and sumps and (2) areas with co-located high net injection (oil reservoir injection exceeds production), old oil and gas wells that may be more likely to develop well-integrity issues than newer wells, and oil and gas wells with uncemented boreholes intersecting groundwater zones. To help fill gaps resulting from sparse groundwater wells, temperature and resistivity borehole log data could be analyzed to locate anomalies that identify potential areas where relatively warm or saline water from deeper hydrocarbon-bearing formations is present in groundwater.

Publication Year 2023
Title Groundwater quality near the Montebello Oil Field, Los Angeles County, California
DOI 10.3133/sir20225128
Authors Jennifer S. Stanton, Michael Land, Matthew K. Landon, David H. Shimabukuro, Peter B. McMahon, Tracy A. Davis, Andrew G. Hunt, Theron A. Sowers
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5128
Index ID sir20225128
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center; Crustal Geophysics and Geochemistry Science Center