By Andrew Grinberg, California Oil and Gas Program Manager – On Twitter, @AndrewBGrinberg
Last week, regulators approved the expanded use of oil wastewater for irrigation of crops in Kern County.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board (Regional Board), unanimously approved a Waste Discharge Requirement (WDR) permit for California Resources Corporation (CRC) to sell 21,200 acre feet (6.9 million gallons) of oil and gas wastewater from the Kern Front Oil Field to the North Kern Water Storage District annually. The produced water will be distributed to farmers for irrigation and used for groundwater recharge, despite significant questions about the safety of this practice, and lack of any established protocols for monitoring or treatment. The Regional Board acted without adequate information and the permit approval did not follow appropriate process, leaving serious questions about the safety of this practice unanswered.
The clearest inadequacy of this permit is the safety of using produced water for irrigation has never been scientifically vetted. A review of the literature on this topic turns up a dearth of information. There are open questions about whether oil and gas associated chemicals could bioaccumulate in crops and threaten food safety, as well as the long term impacts on groundwater from irrigation or groundwater recharge with produced water. The risks have not been assessed and the appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements may not be in place.
The Pacific Institute, in a paper published this month, recommends that “Scientists should conduct a study to determine what level, if any, of chemicals in oil-field wastes is safe for farmworkers, animals, and consumers,”. The paper notes the absence of statewide standards for ensuring safety of the practice and advises that, “Regional water boards should not issue new permits for the reuse of oil-field wastewater for irrigation until the risks have been comprehensively assessed and appropriate monitoring and reporting requirements put in place.” Read the rest of this entry »