California Pushes to Label Foods Containing Produce Irrigated With Fracking Water

The race to find cleaner energy sources has led to a boon in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in search of natural gas. Highly pressurized chemicals and water are pumped deep underground to break shale and release natural gas for harvesting. Residents and environmentalists have long been opposed to the process, which has seen an increase of health issues due to contaminated water. In drought stricken California, there is also concern about the amount of water being used in fracking operations, as well as what is done with the wastewater.

California farmers are frustrated with oil companies that have encroached on their areas. Fertile farm land is also filled with natural gas and there has been an increase in fracking operations. As the name implies, hyrdraulic fracturing is a water-intensive process. At the front-end, freshwater is infused with chemicals and is pumped into the shale. This has put farmers and oil companies in competition for the ever decreasing amount of water available.

As a result, more farmers are purchasing treated fracking wastewater from the oil and gas companies to irrigate their crops. An estimated 21 million gallons a day of treated wastewater are sent to Central Valley farmers. While this practice has happened for nearly two decades, the drought-induced increase has caused alarm. Through lobbying, oil and gas companies have been successful in limiting the amount of testing of the fracking water. The limited testing that is done is over a decade old and only tests for known chemicals and not the ones used in the fracking process.

California has been slow to act on regulation, but has started pushing for greater transparency. Last year, a law establishing stricter reporting requirements was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. It requires companies to indicate the source of the water, what chemicals are used to treat it, and how the wastewater is disposed. The disposal report is required to include information as to whether the wastewater is reused in the fracking process, as well as if it is recycled and sold for other purposes – like farming.

One of the main concerns about the use of fracking wastewater for irrigation is that no one knows how or if the chemicals end up in the food chain. Part of the problem has been that farmers and scientists don’t even know what to test for. The first reports under the new requirements were issued this March. This allowed scientists to discover there are 316 chemical additives used in fracking. Many have never been studied to determine the impact on water quality. Still, it will be some time for research to be done to detail how much of the known chemicals end up in the treated water and if there is any risk to the food chain.

In the meantime, another California legislator wants to keep the public informed that recycled fracking wastewater is used on the food they eat. Rep. Mike Gatto of Glendale wants to amend the California Health and Safety code to require manufacturers that “produces packaged food that contains a plant irrigated with wastewater from oil and gas field activities” to label the package accordingly. In addition, farmers and other suppliers are required to inform buyers if they used fracking wastewater during irrigation.

The bill does not stop the use of recycled fracking wastewater, but allows for greater transparency of its use. Activists have pushed for more labeling on foods in light of greater knowledge of how our food is grown and distributed. A proposition to require labeling of products that use GMO crops failed to pass by voters in 2012. The fracking wastewater bill takes a similar approach to labeling requirements.

The amount of water used for fracking is much less than that used for agriculture. Nevertheless, with water sources literally drying up every drop matters and the prioritization of its use is paramount. Interestingly, a new process to increase the amount of wastewater that is reused in the fracking process has been developed. Instead of using freshwater at the front end, wastewater is treated and modified enough and reduces the amount of freshwater used. A fracking site in Pennsylvania has been able to recycle nearly 80 percent of its water.

Some companies in California have started reusing a small amount of wastewater, but still all rely on freshwater. While the bill introduced by Gatto will do nothing to reduce the use of wastewater in irrigation, if passed, it will allow Californians to be more aware. Consumers have no control over food production. However, knowing what’s involved in the process allows them to make an informed choice as to what makes it to the dinner table.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

112 comments

Jerome S
Jerome S5 months ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome S5 months ago

thanks

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Jim Ven
Jim V5 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim V5 months ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jennifer H.
Jennifer H2 years ago

I, for one, think California is full of legislative idiots to allow fracking to continue and the waste water to be used for irrigation. That being said, we have "people" in power such as Jeff Denham who is a "farmer" and is so pro-farmer that he does not care about the how's and why's just as long as farmers and corporations can make a buck. Problem is, he is not the only one there. He and others are pushing to get rid of EPA because they are bad for business and cost companies too much money and time to comply with restrictions. He wants NO restrictions for business and even voted against GMO labeling and country of origin labeling. So expecting California legislatures to respect and care for the welfare of the California people is expecting too much.

Yes, fracking needs to be stopped; but it won't. Off shore drilling needs to be stopped; but it won't. They won't be happy until Cal is a toxic, barren wasteland that is uninhabitable. Then, they will move and no one else will be able to afford to.

We have a few in Sacramento who care, but not enough of them. Money runs California. Look at the differences in lawns for example. People with money feel it is their right to have green lawn. People who realize that we are out of water have brown lawns. We are one messed up state and it is only going to get worse. Can't wait until they start using flammable fracking waste water to put out our forest fires that are burning us down.

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

noted

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Quanta Kiran
Quanta Kiran2 years ago

unfortunately the farmers are going to lose

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Roberto Meritoni
Roberto Meritoni2 years ago

THANKS

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