California Scientists: Oil & Gas Firms Used Toxic and Still-Hidden Chemicals In Production Of Wastewater Used to Irrigate Crops

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

(Oakland, California. October 4)—An independent scientist’s report produced by two members of a State-convened panel has found oil and gas companies using at least 22 toxic chemicals in oil fields that produce wastewater destined for crop irrigation.

Clean Water Action says the Central Valley Water Board is now under additional pressure to determine whether or not the practice is safe.

Keith Nakatani, Oil & Gas Program Manager for Clean Water Action in California says: “Oil and gas companies have been saying for decades that it is safe to irrigate crops with their wastewater. But there is no way that they, or anybody else, can continue to make that claim.”

“We now know, thanks to this new report, that at least 22 toxic chemicals are used in oil and gas operations, which produce wastewater destined for irrigation. Furthermore, the companies are still hiding the identities of dozens more chemicals, claiming trade secrets. It is the Central Valley Water Board’s responsibility to close this data gap, to identify and analyze all the chemicals being used, and to determine whether this is safe or not. Until this is accomplished, this practice should be stopped.”

San Joaquin Valley farmers have been supplied with oilfield wastewater from Kern County oil fields to grow food crops for over two decades with little state oversight.

Oil and gas companies were forced to disclose the chemicals used in production activities earlier this year by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, following pressure from environmental groups like Clean Water Action, and the public.

The board convened a food safety expert panel to provide guidance on the use of wastewater to irrigate crops. This new report was authored by two members of this expert panel: Seth Shonkoff, PhD, MPH, Executive Director of PSE Healthy Energy, an Oakland-based energy science and policy institute, and Will Stringfellow, PhD, Director of Environmental Measurements Laboratory at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

The report found:

  • 173 chemicals have been used over the past two years in oil and gas production activities, in the oil fields that supply wastewater to farmers for irrigation purposes.
  • Oil and gas firms declined to disclose sufficient information on 66 (38%) of the 173 chemicals, because of trade secret claims or a failure to provide chemical identification information. This is despite the water board’s “13267 orders”, which require that trade secrets information “shall be made available to government agencies”, on the understanding that the agencies cannot then make the information public.
  • 46 (43%) of the 173 chemicals are listed as potential chemicals of concern by authors because of known toxicity, carcinogenicity, and listing to state chemical advisory lists such as Prop 65.
  • 8 chemicals are on the Prop 65 list as chemicals that are known by the State of California to cause cancer and reproductive harm.
  • 10 chemicals were found to be known or possible carcinogens.
  • 22 chemicals are listed by the State or Federal agencies as air toxics.
  • The oil companies include Chevron USA, Inc.; Valley Water Management Company; California Resources Production Corporation; Bellaire Oil Company; Hathaway, LLC; Little Creek Properties/Daybreak Oil and Gas, Inc.; and Modus, Inc.


Notes to editors:

The report is live here:

Keith Nakatani
510 394 7143
Matt Davis