California regulators said they will re-examine potential safety threats of irrigating food crops with treated wastewater from oil and gas production, a practice that has become widespread in Kern County and other parts of the state over the last 30 years.
Four oil companies operating in California currently deliver their oil field wastewater to four irrigation districts in the state, where it is treated and used to water crops.
Although no studies to date have found that this recycling practice poses a health threat, officials at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board say they are open to rethinking the practice should any new information emerge pointing to safety risks.
“If evidence comes available to the regional board that indicates that there are issues associated with the use of this water, then certainly we will take quick measures to address those concerns and mitigate any impacts,” water regulator Clay Rodgers said, according to Sacramento’s Capital Public Radio.
Environmental advocates warn that the oil field wastewater could contain toxic chemicals that are linked to cancer and reproductive problems. According to California Water News Daily, the environmental group EWG says that 100,000 acres of farmland in California’s Central Valley are irrigated with this recycled wastewater.
Although an independent study conducted by Dr. William Stringfellow with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has found no evidence of environmental or human health hazards posed by the wastewater irrigation practice, part of the problem is that the oil and gas industry isn’t required to disclose the chemicals they are using to extract fuel.
The quantities of these mystery chemicals used by oil and gas producers are also unknown. Dr. Stringfellow told Capital Public Radio that “there’s enough questions coming up that it’s worthy of further investigation.”