New Report Finds Toxic Chemicals in Oil Wastewater Used on California Crops

Oakland, Calif. October 4, 2016 – A report released today analyzing chemicals used in California oilfields sheds new light on risks to food and wildlife from oil and gas wastewater that is used for irrigation. The report, written by scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the University of the Pacific and the nonprofit PSE Healthy Energy, found that among the chemicals used in California oil operations are numerous compounds known to cause cancer, reproductive health problems, air pollution and/or other serious health or environmental threats.

“Californians deserve safe food produced without toxic wastewater. This report calls into question the industry’s practice of disposing their waste on our food,” said Michael Green, CEO of the Center for Environmental Health, a national nonprofit health watchdog group that has called on Governor Brown to suspend the use of oil wastewater on crops.

The report looked at two sets of oil and gas data; the first was from an order by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board demanding chemical disclosure from Chevron, Valley Water Management, and five other oil and gas companies. Out of 107 chemicals identified by the researchers from this information request, at least ten have been identified as carcinogens, eight are listed under California law as chemicals known to cause cancer or reproductive health problems, and eight are listed by the U.S. EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Standards (NPDWS) and Advisory Chemicals list. Thirty-nine of the chemicals are classified as substances that pose a significant hazard to aquatic environments. Fifteen chemicals were found to be resistant to biodegradation or not biodegradable.

In the other data set, from a list of chemicals approved by Chevron and California Resources Corporation (CRC) for use in their oil and gas operations that provide produced water for irrigation, 72 chemicals were identified. Of these, eight are listed in California as known to cause cancer or serious reproductive health problems, eight are on the U.S. EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Standards (NPDWS) and Advisory Chemicals list, and three are non-biodegradable.

The report’s preliminary analysis of chemicals used in oil and gas operations support concerns raised by health, environmental, farm and consumer groups from throughout the state that not enough is known about using oil and gas wastewater for crop irrigation. As noted in a recent op-ed, state regulators do not adequately test wastewater for all of the 450 chemicals that may be used in oil production.  Since the drought, the use of wastewater for irrigation has increased dramatically, and last year California Resources Corp., the state’s largest oil company, said it would quadruple the amount of water it sells to farmers.

Today’s report, “Hazard Assessment of Chemical Additives Used in Oil Fields that Reuse Produced Water for Agricultural Irrigation, Livestock Watering, and Groundwater Recharge in The San Joaquin Valley of California: Preliminary Results” is available online.

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