Increased oil and gas production in many areas has led to concerns over the effects these activities may be having on nearby groundwater quality. In this study we determine the lateral and vertical extent of groundwater with less than 10,000 milligrams per liter (mg/l) total dissolved solids (TDS) near the Lost Hills-Belridge oilfields in northwestern Kern County, California and document evidence of impacts by produced water disposal within the Tulare aquifer and overlying alluvium—the primary protected aquifers in the area.
The depth at which groundwater salinity surpasses 10,000 mg/l ranges from 150 m (500 ft [ft]) in the northwestern part of the study area to 490 to 550 m (1,600-1,800 ft) in the south and east respectively as determined by geophysical log analysis and lab analysis of produced water samples. Comparison of logs from replacement wells with logs from their older counterparts shows relatively higher resistivity intervals representing the vadose zone or fresher groundwater being replaced by intervals with much lower resistivity due to infiltration of brines from surface disposal ponds and injection of brines into disposal wells. The effect of the surface ponds is confined to the alluvial aquifer—the underlying Tulare aquifer is largely protected by a regional clay layer at the base of the alluvium. Sand layers affected by injection of produced waters in nearby disposal wells often exhibit log resistivity profiles that change from high resistivity in their upper parts to low resistivity near the base due to stratification by gravity segregation of the denser brines within each affected sand. The effects of produced water injection are mainly evident within the Tulare Formation and can be noted as far as 550 m (1,800 ft) from the main group of disposal wells located along the east flank of South Belridge.