Using oil wastewater for irrigation raises significant concerns for farmworkers, consumers, and the environment. Although wastewater generated in oil production contains dozens of toxic chemicals and compounds, many of which may be unknown to the public, current regulations require minimal filtering, testing, and disclosure of oil wastewater before it is allowed to be used for irrigation. While the practice of fracking and its impacts on water supplies has generated much attention, particularly for its high use of harmful chemicals and likely contamination of aquifers, the problem is not confined to fracking operations, as modern injection-well and steam-assisted oil drilling facilities produce toxic wastewater that is regularly applied as irrigation water.
The use of oil wastewater is particularly common in California’s southern San Joaquin Valley, including Kern and Kings counties, and potentially affects organic as well as conventional farms in that region. While organic farmers confront possible decertification of their organic status due to the presence of unknown or undisclosed synthetic chemicals in their irrigation water, all farmers using this wastewater face the very real possibility that their irrigation water is poisoning their crops, livestock, and soil, and harming their farmworkers. And consumers are confronted with the possibility that these chemicals persist through the growing, processing, and preparation phases and are then consumed by people.
CFS seeks to rid California food and farms of all harmful chemicals used in oil production, and we believe that success in California would likely impact the practice in other states. Short of an outright ban on the practice, we seek the development of enforceable standards for oil wastewater when used for irrigation (which would likely implicate and require enforceable standards regarding the use of toxic chemicals in the oil production process in the first place) and the development of a monitoring and enforcement program for food produced with oil-related irrigation water.