Oil industry representatives, in response to criticism over their use of water for fracking and steam injection oil drilling operations during the drought, have claimed that oil field wastewater can be used beneficially by farmers to irrigate crop in California.
In a recent blog post, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) and former Chair of the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create so-called "marine protected areas" in Southern California, touted the use of oil field wastewater for irrigating crops in Kern County in the southern San Joaquin Valley. (https://www.wspa.org/...)
"Bringing crude oil to the surface from deep underground so it can be refined into gasoline, diesel and jet fuel is a process that also produces water – lots of water," gushed Reheis-Boyd.
"For every barrel of oil produced in California, many more barrels of water are also brought to the surface," she said. "According to the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, the average barrel of oil in California results in the production of 15 barrels of water."
She acknowledged that much of this water is "unsuitable for use above ground" but claimed, "Fortunately, there are still uses for this water."
"Most of it is injected into oil fields as steam or water to help produce more energy for Californians. Some of it is treated and provided to farmers who use it to irrigate their crops," she said.
Reheis-Boyd claimed Kern County producers currently provide more than 31,000 acre feet of water annually to irrigate 45,000 acres of productive farmland. "That’s more than 10 billion gallons of water for farmers who are facing severe cuts in the water they receive from other sources, such as state and federal water projects," she said.
However, earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times revealed that testing by Water Defense had found toxic industrial chemicals present in the recycled oil field wastewater used to irrigate crops in California’s Central Valley, effectively challenging the oil industry claims that oil industry wastewater could be safely used for irrigating food crops. (http://touch.latimes.com/...)
The Times quoted Blake Sanden, an agriculture extension agent and irrigation water expert with UC Davis, who said "everyone smells the petrochemicals in the irrigation water" in the Cawelo district. "When I talk to growers, and they smell the oil field crap in that water, they assume the soil is taking care of this.
"Microorganisms in soils can consume and process some impurities, Sanden said, but it's not clear whether oil field waste is making its way into the roots or leaves of irrigated plants, and then into the food chain," the Times reported.
Two national advocacy organizations, Food & Water Watch and Water Defense, are now calling on California Governor Jerry Brown to protect Americans who consume California produce by ending the practice of using toxic oil field wastewater for irrigation.
Scott Smith, Chief Scientist of Water Defense, collected the samples from treated wastewater sold by the oil and gas industry to the Cawelo Water District in Kern County, according to a joint statement from the two groups.
An alarming video released on May 26 shows Smith, who has tested water across the country, encountering tar balls and oil slicks, conditions he compared to those he witnessed during the Gulf oil spill in 2010. (http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/...)
“I always viewed California as a leader in protecting the environment,” said Smith. “I was absolutely shocked when I found myself surrounded by food crops with the smell of oil coming off the irrigation water. It was worse than what I smelled during the BP Gulf oil spill.”
But the trouble doesn’t end with the smell. “When the test results came back we found dangerous and toxic chemicals in the irrigation canal system,” said Smith. “The levels of these toxic chemicals exceeded what I have tested in official oil spill disasters.”
Water Defense reported that its tests found industrial solvents, including acetone and methylene chloride, as well as oil.
“California grows the lion’s share of the fruits and vegetables we eat in the United States,” said Wenonah Hauter, Food & Water Watch Executive Director. “It is inexcusable that the oil and gas industry is allowed to use American families’ dinner plates as a disposal site for toxic oil field wastewater. Governor Jerry Brown must take immediate action to protect our food by ending the use of this industrial waste for irrigation.”
To learn more about Water Defense’s testing methods, read the interview with Scott Smith and view the video at their blog: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/...
For more information, go to: foodandwaterwatch.org and waterdefense.org.