Farmers Growing Crops With Oil Wastewater Out of Desperation

Amidst a crippling drought, Californians should be applauded for devising new ways to conserve and recycle the state’s limited water supply. However, environmentalists are hardly excited about one of the newer “solutions,” namely Chevron selling its leftover wastewater to nearby farmers. How do you feel about having the food you eat being grown with the untreated water from oil excavation?

There’s definitely reason for concern. Given that drilling and fracking rely on a lot of chemicals, sending this tainted water — a total of 21 million gallons per day — to Kern County for farming raises the potential that these dangerous toxins will wind up in the food we eat. While most scientists aren’t prepared to say that recycling oil wastewater for agriculture is definitely unsafe until tests are done, it is disconcerting that the state is allowing this transferal to occur without conducting much research.

As the LA Times points out, testing the contents of oil wastewater has been a “low priority” for the government in recent years despite evidence that it seeps into local water supplies. Unsurprisingly, oil companies have successfully lobbied to have fewer tests conducted on this wastewater. In fact, when the water is tested, the government looks for toxins found commonly in nature like arsenic, not the kinds of dangerous compounds that get used while drilling for oil. However, now that the wastewater is used directly on crops for human consumption, it seems especially pertinent to verify the safety of this water.

The newspaper spoke to scientist Scott Smith, who had decided to run some tests of his own. Collecting samples of the drilling wastewater en route to farms, Smith found traces of oil as well as high concentrations of methylene choloride (considered a carcinogen) and acetone in the water. While Chevron denies that it uses either of those compounds, they will not reveal what kind of chemicals can be found in wastewater since the government has helped them classify this mess as a “trade secret.” The company is willing to say that it’s safe, though.

Forget the unknown entities in the water, though. Even what the farmers know is in the wastewater isn’t good for their crops. This leftover water is excessively salty. In less than ideal conditions, farmers would mix the wastewater with fresh water to try to lower its salt content. However, in these current dire drought conditions, farmers don’t even have enough fresh water to mix with the salty wastewater. Instead, they have to use it as is and hope that rainwater will take care of the extra salt.

Alas, there’s not much rainwater to be found in a drought – which is why farms are in this predicament in the first place. Since salt makes soil barren, this wastewater is liable to kill this farmland anyway with or without the help of toxic chemicals.

Meanwhile, oil companies have found a way to profit off the drought. Normally, they have to pay a bunch to dispose of the wastewater, but since water is in such high demand currently, they can now sell their leftovers for $30 per acre-foot. It’s unfathomable that they’re selling tainted water – at the very least they should be giving away that sludge for free!

At the end of the day, it’s ridiculous that farmers have to take the sloppy seconds from oil corporations in the first place. We already know the dangers that drilling and oil pose to the environment, so why does a company like Chevron get first dibs on that water? If a drought is limiting our water supply, Chevron should have to pay for recycled water – or better yet, receive no water at all! That’ll help the state to avoid the controversy of using oil-tainted water to grow food altogether.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

93 comments

Jim V
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks

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Jim V
Jim Vabout a year ago

thanks

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jerome S
Jerome Sabout a year ago

thanks for sharing.

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Jim Ven
Jim V2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C3 years ago

Thank you for sharing

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Laurie j.
Laurie jope3 years ago

Thanks

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Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper3 years ago

Noted

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Magdalena J.
Past Member 3 years ago

Thank you!

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sandra vito
Sandra Vito3 years ago

gracias

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