Drought-Stricken California Farmers Buy Recycled Oil Wastewater For Irrigation

Most Americans, except those who are under the spell of Republicans or the anti-environment fossil fuel industry probably comprehend the necessity of water to human life. It is also likely that most Americans understand that food is necessary to sustain human life and that a necessary ingredient of food production is water. Although modern society functions due to fossil fuels, particularly oil products, human life is not sustained or dependent on oil. However, that simple biological fact is lost on the oil industry in the California Great Central Valley that produces and supplies the nation with a majority of the food consumed by a very large percentage of the American population.

Some Americans may be aware that California is in the fourth year of a projected permanent severe drought as a direct result of anthropogenic climate change. Subsequently, the nation’s food supply is going to be, if not already, negatively impacted and still, the oil industry is busy pumping the precious resource out of the ground with no regard for the dire shortage or impact on the people of California. However, the industry is sensitive to the needs of agriculture and is making a profit by selling 21 million gallons of recycled waste water daily from oil production to farmers in the Central Valley.

Before anyone praises the oil industry for making a profit from stealing irrigation water to process oil and then selling it back to drought-stricken farmers, they may be interested in knowing the processed waste water used on crops they eventually consume is tainted with high levels of acetone and methylene chloride; two chemicals that are highly toxic to human beings. Testing has also revealed that the “recycled” waste water irrigating crops was found to have oil present; oil the industry promised has been removed during the recycling process.

Tests that discovered the oil and toxins in the ‘recycled‘  water were conducted by Water Defense, an environmental group founded by actor Mark Ruffalo in 2010. The tests revealed that the industrial solvent methylene chloride used to ‘soften’ crude oil was four times the concentration found in 2013’s ExxonMobil tar sands pipeline spill that decimated an Arkansas river.  The chief scientist conducting the tests for Water Defense, Scott Smith, said that “All these chemicals of concern are flowing into the irrigation canal” farmers are tapping into to irrigate crops. He continued that  “If you were a gas station and were spilling these kinds of chemicals into the water, you would be shut down and fined.” Government authorities never before required recycled oil industry water to be tested for the toxic chemicals used in oil production although they did test for naturally-occurring toxins like salts and arsenic according to “decades-old” standards.


Chevron, just one oil company in the region, produces about 70,000 barrels of oil and 760,000 barrels of waste water each day from the Kern River oil field. Naturally, Chevron pushed back against the independent test results and denied that its waste water contained any “dangerous” chemicals. The company released a statement claiming that “protection of people and the environment is a core value for Chevron, and we take all necessary steps to ensure the protection of our water resources.”

However, after Water Defense publicly release its test results, “out of an abundance of caution” Chevron will begin contracting with an outside group, but not an environmental watchdog, to test the waste water it sells back to farmers to irrigate crops. One thing Chevron refuses, and will never do, is to disclose publicly or to state regulators what fluids or chemicals it uses in the water for oil drilling or well maintenance. The assistant executive officer of the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board, Clay Rodgers, said “We need to make sure we fully understand what goes into the waste water.”

Regardless what Chevron admits, an agriculture extension agent and irrigation water expert from U.C. Davis, Blake Sanden, said the processed waste water cannot possibly be safe because farmers can smell oil and chemicals in the water they are buying to irrigate their crops. Apparently, the farmers were told not to concern themselves with the residual oil or chemicals in the water because “the soil is ‘likely’ filtering out any really harmful toxins before they can be absorbed by the crops.” Sanden said it is impossible to know if toxins and oil are making their way into the roots and leaves of crops because “the state is not testing for oil and petrochemicals in waste water. He said ” you’re not going to find chemicals of concern if you don’t look for them;” particularly if regulators do not know which chemicals to look for.

According to the state agency that regulates oil industry waste water, the California State Water Resources Control Board, it does not matter much whether the poisoned recycled waste water is sold to farmers for irrigation or pumped into the aquifer because any monitoring of oil fields is a “low priority.” In what is a standard practice across the nation by underfunded agencies and those indebted to big oil, the burden for testing waste water falls “largely on the oil companies” themselves as prudent self-regulators. These are the same oil companies that crusade to eliminate testing and disclosure requirements out of their concern for wasting time, expense, and reducing profits.

It is unlikely anything is going to change anytime soon regardless of the attention on the drought and vanishing water resources. Americans are just going to have to trust the oil industry when they say the waste water they are selling to farmers for irrigating crops is safe. Still, Water Defense’s Smith says “that it’s important for testing of waste water to continue,” but his organization wields no regulatory power over agriculture or the powerful oil industry.

Smith said that his organization “wants to work with Chevron, we want to work with the regulators. We want to use multiple methods of testing. That’s the best way to figure out what’s in that water and what can be done to solve it.” However, Chevron or any other oil company is not going to reveal what is in the waste water for tests to discover; particularly when they can freely pump clean water out of the ground, mix it with poison and oil, claim it is recycled and then sell it back to farmers for a profit.

Americans and California’s farmers will just have to “trust big oil” that the waste water for irrigation is really recycled and that the crops they consume from California are free of carcinogens and crude oil. The good news is the fear of contaminated irrigation water and tainted crops will likely only last for 12 to 18 more months which is when experts predict California will be completely out of water.

24 Replies to “Drought-Stricken California Farmers Buy Recycled Oil Wastewater For Irrigation”

  1. And all of the while, California residents will continue to water their lawns, keep golf courses open, and keep their open air swimming pools full.

    California Farming- the New Organic, as brought to you by the Koch Brothers, and Nestle.

  2. I bet the 1% don’t eat tainted food. Let the masses eat the poison. They have nothing to live for! Re-dum-i-cans.

  3. Years ago I bought a dress that smelled like oil even after washing several times and I got rid of it. Tag said: Made In UAE,100% cotton.

    I thought at the time the cotton was infused with oil or the dye plants used to dye it were oil product. It was very strong oil scent, especially when wet.

    That makes me sick just thinking about it in our food. I couldn’t stand it on one dress.

  4. Thank you Rmuse for another of your excellent, highly informative articles. I appreciate your research efforts & your unique style of writing.

    Since California produces a sizable majority of the country’s fruits & vegetables, ‘trusting the oil companies’ is a very scary proposition. With a permanent drought in California’s foreseeable future, not only will the cost of produce skyrocket but now we’ll have to be aware of contaminated fruits & vegetables that no amount of fruit & veggie wash will ever clean. It’s a well known fact that oil companies put profits over people’s health & that settling one lawsuit is cheaper than changing their ways.

    I’ve started a small garden & will buy local as much as I can this summer; with plans for freezing & canning. The people in the US must change their ways, with each person doing their part, talking collectively & working together. We are all in this together & no amount of denying climate change or money will change this or protect …

  5. Back in the early 90’s, I watched a Dutch news program with one Dutch scientist and two other scientists from other Northern European countries (forgot which two).

    He took a 10 gallon aquarium and filled it with sludge-water from a Dutch moat (horribly nasty water). The water was green full of dangerous pollutants.

    The Dutch scientist took a glass of clear-looking water that was full of microorganisms that can clean that nasty water in no time to drink-water quality. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw him pour that seemingly crystal clear water into the dark green water. You could actually SEE the microorganisms working as they cleared the green away. After about an hour or so, the water was ready for drinking!
    Read about the Minotaurus Project at this link: http://cordis.europa.eu/result/rcn/91134_en.html

    California should be looking into making Big Oil clean the water this way.

  6. ICH, I know what you speak of. In the last few years, at different times, I saw both Ashley Judd & Bill Gates while in third world countries, drink glasses of contaminated water after the water was treated with a tablet of the same substance you mention. Though I don’t recall either of them having to wait an hour before the water was drinkable as the technique being demonstrated was instantaneous. I do hope the oil companies in California are looking into this.

  7. “ARREST” ALL OF THESE “PEOPLE” WHO ARE ACTUALLY “POISONING” OUR WATER, FOOD AND ALL OF US!!! NOW!!! We are “ALL” actually “CRAZY” IF WE DON’T “STOP” THIS EVIL-SHIT NOW. In my opinion.”Why” and “who” has been “allowing” this “POISONING” of our “WATER and FOOD” too happen (over time)??? Lets “track-down” everyone of the “previous” and “current” Govt. Officials responsible for “allowing” this too happen and arrest and “prosecute” them all. NOW!!! Before we are all too “sick or dead” too do anything. “THEY” (ELITE !%) WANT TOO KILL US ALL OFF!!!

  8. Like us, plants are what they “eat”. Guess we can just use vinegar on our salads since they’ll already have the oil….

  9. Dumb question? Why can’t the oil companies re-use the water they are selling to the farmers and they wouldn’t have to purify it to do it? Maybe they wouldn’t have to add more chemicals to it? Sometimes the obvious is the hardest to see? Why spoil our food?

  10. PHOOEY(THE)RAT, while I appreciate your sentiments, holding those (big businesses) accountable for contaminating our water & food is a daunting task. At the same time we hold those responsible accountable, we must keep funding all agencies in charge of protecting our air, water & food at the federal & state level in addition to supporting the funding of R&D programs in green technology.

    If we are to sustain our lives here on planet Earth, big business & oil will have to learn to work with environmental protection groups & vice versa. I don’t buy the GOP Libertarian rhetoric that says environmental regulations or any regulations are bad for business. Big oil & business will have to learn to get used to less obscene profits.

  11. Excellent question MrsGunka! Yes, why doesn’t big oil use recycled water? Perhaps part of the reason lies in the fact that many of us already use waste water to irrigate our lawns; though we don’t eat the grass.

    Big oil will likely protest that contaminated water doesn’t work in their refinery process but it’s okay to use to grow our food. Gotta love the priorities this country has!

  12. If our govt. “officials” actually worked for “all” of us and not just “big oil” this would “not” be a topic we would be discussing today because they (govt. officials) would “not” have “allowed” “big oil” “permission” too do this kind of stuff. That’s where the “blame” starts (our “crooked” govt.officials, past and present). In my opinion.

  13. I agree with you 100%.

    We can’t let what little oversight we have become privatized or get slashed into oblivion. We need to get our government at the federal & state levels working for, protecting & representing ‘we the people’ again & not just the 1%.

  14. Thanks, Tatiana. I didn’t know this about Bill Gates and Ashley Judd. I just recall that news piece back in the early 1990’s. The Dutch scientist said, that had they used these microorganisms on the Exxon oil spill, the region would have been rid of their oil within a month or so.

    I guess it no longer takes that long to clean recycled water with the Minotaurus process since I’ve last seen it in 1991.

    By the way, I’ve written my CA Assembly Representative and State Senator about the Minotaurus process, and included the link. Hopefully, they’ll take a serious look into it before people get really sick from that contaminated water that’s used to grow their produce and fruit crops.

    In addition to water-recycling, we also need to turn as many traditional farms into hydroponic farms that uses 90% less water and produces three times as much produce as traditional farms do.

  15. Are you “implying” that we must all now “simply” just “calm down” and adjust our living standards and ways of life (as if that is even possible for some people) in order too actually survive and then just “peacefully” co-exist with Big Oil and the crooked govt. officials who are responsible for allowing them too “continue” too do this stuff too us on a “daily” basis? Is that how it should be?

  16. The 1% doesn’t give a care about this. This does not affect them one bit, high up in those ivory towers. As long as they eat steak and indulge in the best and never live among “us” and see what the hell real life is, then they could give a damn about some no-name who got poisoned.

  17. save every drop of household water for plants, i.e. save the cold water that comes out before the hot water does

    my car is FILTHY but was rinsed on Saturday April 25 when we got some rain

    There are trees I do water since I live in the hills where there are wildfires.
    I’d like to know who had the “bright” idea to plant pine trees, in the parkway, which become torches during a fire, in a hilly area.

  18. “Sizeable amount” is an understatement
    California is America’s produce department.

    California grows over 200 different crops, some grown nowhere else in the nation. Crops include grapes, almonds, strawberries, oranges and walnuts.
    California produces almost all of the country’s almonds, apricots, dates, figs, kiwi fruit, nectarines, olives, pistachios, prunes, and walnuts. It leads in the production of avocados, grapes, lemons, melons, peaches, plums, and strawberries. Only Florida produces more oranges.
    The most important vegetable crops grown in the state are lettuce and tomatoes. Again, California leads the way. Broccoli and carrots rank second followed by asparagus, cauliflower, celery, garlic, mushrooms, onions, and peppers. Only Texas grows more cotton than California.
    Hay, rice, corn, sugar beets, and wheat are also grown in large quantities.

  19. So the tea bag/repubs wish to GUT the EPA, which helps to control poisons and pollutants.

    tea bag/repub = stupid

  20. “the soil is ‘likely’ filtering out any really harmful toxins before they can be absorbed by the crops.”
    Even IF the contaminants were not making it into the plants (unlikely), they are probably not going to be degraded in the soil in which case they would build up over time. How toxic is that soil going to get?

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