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Land-use interactions, Oil-Field infrastructure, and natural processes control hydrocarbon and arsenic concentrations in groundwater, Poso Creek Oil Field, California, USA

May 7, 2024

Like many hydrocarbon production areas in the U.S., the Poso Creek Oil Field in California includes and is adjacent to other land uses (agricultural and other developed lands) that affect the hydrology and geochemistry of the aquifer overlying and adjacent to oil development. We hypothesize that the distributions of hydrocarbons and arsenic in groundwater in such areas will be controlled by complex interactions between mixed land uses, oil-field infrastructure, and natural processes. In 2020–2021, samples of groundwater and surface water were collected and analyzed for a large suite of inorganic and organic chemicals and isotope and gas tracers to test this hypothesis. Those data are supplemented with ancillary data on historical geochemistry, hydrology, geology, and oil-field infrastructure. Hydrocarbons in groundwater (e.g., methane through pentane gases and benzene) are associated with natural processes (e.g., fault offsets or transition in sediment depositional environment) and oil-field infrastructure (e.g., fluid-migration pathways associated with uncemented annulus in oil wells or unlined pits). Arsenic concentrations >10 μg per liter (μg/L; maximum concentration 12.9 μg/L) are associated with natural processes in old, high-pH groundwater, and more recent recharge of water from natural and/or engineered recharge processes. Along the southwest margin of the oil field, pumping for drinking-water and irrigation supplies in combination with engineered groundwater recharge produce a depression in groundwater elevations where groundwater with elevated sulfate concentrations from agricultural areas and groundwater with hydrocarbons from the oil field mix to produce a zone of sulfate reduction that removes hydrocarbons and arsenic from groundwater but produces elevated sulfide (S2-) concentrations (maximum concentration 29 mg per liter, mg/L). In this study, multiple approaches were required to resolve the overlapping effects of land uses, oil-field infrastructure, and natural processes on the distributions of hydrocarbons and arsenic in groundwater. The combined use of geographic, historical, physical, chemical, isotopic, and other information to constrain processes could be a useful approach for studies in other hydrocarbon-production areas. This is particularly important where land uses affect aquifer hydrology to an extent that causes mixing of groundwaters with different chemical compositions.

Publication Year 2024
Title Land-use interactions, Oil-Field infrastructure, and natural processes control hydrocarbon and arsenic concentrations in groundwater, Poso Creek Oil Field, California, USA
DOI 10.1016/j.apgeochem.2024.106025
Authors Peter B. McMahon, Matthew K. Landon, Michael J. Stephens, Kimberly A. Taylor, Michael Wright, Angela Hansen, Tamara E. C. Kraus, Isabelle M. Cozzarelli, David H. Shimabukuro, Theron A. Sowers, Justin T. Kulongoski, Andrew Hunt, Ruta Karolyte, Darren J. Hillegonds, Chris J. Ballentine
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Applied Geochemistry
Index ID 70254213
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center