Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Better Understanding Needed on Use of Oilfield Water to Irrigate Crops in Drought Stricken California

Questions are being raised about the use of  water from oilfields for irrigation water in California.  California has been in a drought since 2011 and community water systems have had to utilize more of this reclaimed water.  Unfortunately for the fruit industry, activists have publically decried certain brands / producers without much information to support claims.

Clearly, there needs to be more transparency on actual use as well as more knowledge about the actual risks.  One question - why was an extensive study not already completed by a government agency sooner?

A potential issue exists for those manufacturers purchasing products from these areas.  If a real issue arises, or even more likely, a perceived issue gains traction in the media, it can extend to those who used items grown in that region as ingredients.  For example, Brand X is using juju beans grown in that area.  And some obscure research article finds that there is 10 ppb of Agent D (for deadly) in the soil, and in testing juju beans, some results indicate that Agent D was found in the stem structure of the plant.  Some concerned citizens read this and raise concern, the media reports this 'issue', someone realizes that juju beans are an ingredient used in Brand X and blogs about it, and next thing you know, Brand X is implicated for potentially having Agent D in a rainstorm of poop brought by the uninformed media types.  No one will look into the initial study to find that they never looked at whether the juju beans actually contained Agent X, whether the concentrations in the soil are even an issue, whether the juju beans purchased by Brand X came from that area, and whether the processing of the juju beans would have eliminated the issue if it even had a chance of being there.

SF Gate
Experts to study food safety of oilfield wastewater
Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press
Updated 6:39 pm, Tuesday, January 12, 2016 

RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. (AP) — More farmers in drought-stricken California are using oilfield wastewater to irrigate, and a new panel on Tuesday began taking one of the state's deepest looks yet at the safety of using the chemical-laced water on food crops.

In the fourth year of California's drought, at least five oilfields in the state are now passing along their leftover production fluid to water districts for irrigation, for recharging underground water supplies, and other uses, experts said.

Chevron and the California offshoot of Occidental Petroleum are among the oil companies supplying oilfield wastewater for irrigating tens of thousands of acres in California. Almond, pistachio and citrus growers are the main farmers already using such water.

California's aging oilfields require intensive drilling methods and generate lots of wastewater. In Central California's San Joaquin Valley, a center of the state's agriculture and oil businesses, oil companies in 2013 produced 150 million barrels of oil — and nearly 2 billion barrels of wastewater.
Central California leads the country in food production. It's also the main oil-producing base in California, the country's No. 3 oil-and-gas producing state.

For farmers in California's drought, the question is "where's the water going to come from if you want to maintain agriculture," said Gabriele Ludwig, a representative of Almond Board of California and one of the members of the new panel.

The state officials, academic experts and industry representatives on the panel are charged with studying the safety of irrigating food crops with oilfield wastewater that may contain chemicals and other material from hydraulic fracturing, other intensive drilling methods and oilfield maintenance.

The effect of oilfield chemicals on food is "largely unstudied and unknown," says the nonprofit Pacific Institute, which studies water issues.

Researchers, for example, don't know the long-term toxicity of up to 80 percent of the hundreds of materials used in oilfield production, Pacific Institute researcher Matthew Heberger told panel members.

Testing so far has found only negligible amounts of chemicals in the recycled oilfield water, said Clay Rodgers, a manager at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, which assembled the panel. At least one local water district also has begun growing test crops with the oilfield water to study how much of the chemicals wind up in the produce.

As of now, with so many unknowns about the hundreds of chemicals involved and their possible impact on crops, "We're not able to answer the public definitely and say there's no problem," said William Stringfellow, a panel member and environmental engineer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley.

The regional water board will use the panel's findings to guide its oversight of the recycling of oilfield wastewater, Rodgers said.

Sustainable Brands SUPPLY CHAIN
35K Californians Boycotting Produce Grown With Oil Wastewater
September 1, 2015
by Hannah Furlong
Over 35,600 people have signed a Courage Campaign pledge to boycott several popular California produce companies after news that they may be using contaminated oil industry wastewater to grow their crops.

A Mother Jones article exposed Sunview, Halos mandarins, Trinchero Family Estates, and Bee Sweet Citrus as companies that use water from Kern County's Cawelo Water District, where oil companies provided half of the water supply in 2014. According to the Los Angeles Times, oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of water each day that is used on 45,000 acres of crops, about 10 percent of the county’s farmland.

“How in the world do these corporations think this is OK? This is scary. Hundreds of thousands of Americans put Halos Mandarins into their kids’ lunch boxes every day and by all appearances, Halos and other major California growers — some even considered ‘organic’ — are irrigating their crops with oil wastewater, laced with carcinogens,” explained Eddie Kurtz, executive director of the California-based Courage Campaign. “These brands have no plans to stop. If anything, Big Oil wants to find more takers for this toxic water. Consumers and parents all over the country need to take action immediately, educate each other, and stop buying food from these misguided, short-sighted companies.”

In California, wastewater that is generated from oil extraction is treated under a 20-year-old water recycling program and can then be sold to landowners. Selling the wastewater is particularly appealing to oil companies in light of tightened rules around its disposal and the severe drought that the state has been experiencing since 2011. Using the wastewater is good for water conservation and oil companies’ bottom line, but the wastewater contains oilfield contaminants, and toxin concentrations and effects are unknown.

Farmers and food processors assume the water they purchase passes health requirements and rely on the decades-old monitoring standards. Tests were updated in April to include a broader range of compounds used in oil extraction, including fracking, and a committee has been appointed to determine if the chemicals in oilfield water pose a threat to public health. The current tests may not cover all potential toxins from the oil industry, particularly from chemicals used in fracking that may be used without disclosure or testing.

Environmental group Water Defense, founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010, found high levels of the toxic compounds acetone and methylene chloride in wastewater from Chevron used for irrigation purposes. The tests also found the presence of oil, which is supposed to be removed from the wastewater during recycling.

“All these chemicals of concern are flowing in the irrigation canal,” Scott Smith, chief scientist for Water Defense, told ThinkProgress. “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.”

Another environmental group, Food & Water Watch, received the district, names and addresses of companies that use water from the Cawelo Water District — a blend of oil wastewater and water from other sources such as the Kern River. Using this information, Mother Jones highlighted:

  • Wonderful Citrus, the producers of Halos mandarins;
  • Sunview table grapes, raisins, persimmons, and prune plums, including certified organic products;
  • Trinchero Family Estates, maker of Sutter Home and other wines, which sources some of its wine grapes from the Cawelo Water District; and
  • Bee Sweet Citrus oranges, mandarins and lemons.
"As I am sure you know, essentially all farming operations in the Cawelo Water District receive some water from the Cawelo Water District," James Sherwood, VP of Operations at Bee Sweet Citrus, said in an e-mail to Mother Jones. "I hope the focus of your article will be raising awareness for the need for more aboveground water storage in California as our state's population continues to grow and as California farmers feed our nation."
The Courage Campaign boycott against Halos mandarins, Sunview, Trinchero and Bee Sweet Citrus joins several other petitions on the California-based non-profit organization’s site that focus on issues related to water and the California drought. Current campaigns include boycotts against NestlĂ© bottled water and Walmart bottled water, as well as pleas to Governor Jerry Brown to take action against the use of toxic wastewater and overhaul the water system in California entirely.
More Reading
NY Times
A California Oil Field Yields Another Prized Commodity
 LA Times
Central Valley's growing concern: Crops raised with oil field water

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