The current drought in California has prompted industries in California to be more creative with how they get water. Now the oil industry has expressed increased interest in recycling their oil field waste-water, according to Julie Cart of The LA Times. It seems like a good idea on the surface—water contaminated during the oil manufacturing process can be cleaned up and sold, often to agricultural cooperatives.
Cart writes (referring to David Ansolabehere, general manager of the Cawelo Water District)...
The program is a good deal for oil companies, which view the water as an expensive nuisance. And it's a bargain for the water districts. Ansolabehere said the cooperative pays Chevron about $30 an acre-foot for the wastewater, about half of open-market rates."
So, it seems like a win-win: clean cheap water for farmers, a “green” boasting right for the oil company. However, there’s a problem, the water may not be clean. The issue, as Cart explains, is that tests used to determine the safety of oil field water are not designed to detect chemicals used in modern oil processing. New California laws require companies to disclose chemicals used in the fracking process, but there has been very little research on whether any of these contaminants might make their way into irrigated crops.
Highlighting the importance of soil health, Cart explains (via her interview with one Blake Sanden of UC Davis Extension), that for now our protection may have to come through the purifying nature of soil:
Microorganisms in soils can consume and process some impurities….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.
It's unlikely that petrochemicals will show up in an almond, for example, he added, "But can they make it into the flesh of an orange or grape? It's possible. A lot of this stuff has not been studied in a field setting or for commercial food uptake."
It’s a complicated nexus where water, energy and food all interact. As we continue to get creative with solving our water needs, it will be all the more important to understand.
Adding another important layer into this scheme of the necessity and complications of clean and plentiful water, on the opposite coast and the downstream side of the supply chain, protesters in North Carolina made small but important news highlighting issues of water quality and Environmental Justice. At issue is the disproportionate amount of Hog Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) that are located in communities of color. An often cited study by was published in 2013 by Wendee Nicole explains how CAFO’s in North Carolina have been a source of Environmental Justice violations for a long time. A recent complaint filed by a coalition of environmental and social justice activist groups, brought forth a determination from the EPA that an investigation is necessary.
The event, aptly named the Rally for Racial and Environmental Justice, was headlined by Waterkeeper Alliance president Robert F. Kennedy. The Reverend William Barber wrote an impassioned Op-ed in the Charlotte Observer explaining the vital importance of raising awareness around this issue.
It’s no secret that polluting industries and industrial waste sites are often located in low-income communities, especially communities of color that offer the least political resistance. It has long been true that money, power, and influence dictate who draws the short end of the stick. And forcing people without much political voice to bear the burden of pollution, disease and misery is most certainly a form of racism and injustice."
Whether it's keeping oil contaminants out of our food, or water pollution out of communities that don’t have a voice, safe water is a right in our country. Despite the various factors working against clean water for all, it is nice to know that there are just as many people and organizations out there working for the opposite.
Image published @OPFLEXinventor
- Central Valley's growing concern: Crops raised with oil field water via LA Time
- CAFOs and Environmental Justice: The Case of North Carolina via Environmental Health Perspectives
- Rally for Racial and Environmental Justice via Waterkeepers Alliance
- A different kind of discrimination via the Charlotte Observer