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Preliminary results from exploratory sampling of wells for the California oil, gas, and groundwater program, 2014–15

August 3, 2016


In 2014 and 2015, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) sampled water wells in the Los Angeles Basin and southern San Joaquin Valley, California, and oil wells in the San Joaquin Valley for analysis of multiple chemical, isotopic, and groundwater-age tracers. The purpose of this reconnaissance sampling was to evaluate the utility of tracers for assessing the effects of oil and gas production activities on groundwater quality in California. The study was done in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board. Results of the study are intended to help design a regional groundwater-monitoring program to be implemented as part of California Senate Bill 4 (SB 4 statutes of 2013). The regional monitoring program plans to assess the effects of oil and gas production activities on groundwater quality and to provide a regional context for local monitoring of the groundwater-quality effects from well-stimulation treatments, which are techniques used to improve oil and gas production by increasing their rate of flow to the well. California SB 4 mandates that this local monitoring is to be done by oil-well operators in accordance with monitoring criteria established by the State Water Board.

This report evaluates the utility of the chemical, isotopic, and groundwater-age tracers for assessing sources of salinity, methane, and petroleum hydrocarbons in groundwater overlying or near several California oil fields. Tracers of dissolved organic carbon in
oil-field-formation water are also discussed. Tracer data for samples collected from 51 water wells and 4 oil wells are examined.