Is Oil Wastewater A Cure For California’s Drought?

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Dex Dunford via,

As California grapples with a historic four-year-long drought, and farmers skimp on water for crops in the face of fines, oil wastewater is becoming both a laudable and uncomfortable answer to water woes.

Depending on who you ask, California’s drought may be over this spring. It may also never be over, with some scientists questioning whether groundwater reserves can ever reach pre-drought levels.

California isn’t the only U.S. state dealing with drought. As of right now, much of the western United States is experiencing some level of drought as well as parts of the upper mid-west. Water is a precious resource, and restrictions on water usage are becoming more and more common.

A recent national survey shows that nearly 75 percent of Americans believe that the agriculture industry should be first in line for water during a drought. It makes sense. Farmers grow our food and raise our meat. However, record fines being levied against farmers who pull too much water in California has the agriculture industry questioning what the future holds.

Could the answer really be held deep underground in oil wastewater reservoirs?

Before you turn your nose up at the thought of wastewater being used on the crops you eat; you should probably know that it is already being done. In fact, Chevron pumped 8 billion gallons of treated wastewater to farmers in California last year.

Recent figures estimate that about a third of oil wastewater is reused in some way. That means there is a large, unused source of water that could render aid to farmers. However, the cost of treating oil wastewater for use on crops is a major hurdle for producers to overcome. But first, we have to know if the wastewater is even safe for use on crops.

Legitimate concerns have been brought forward regarding the safety of treated oil wastewater. How effective is the treatment? Could the wastewater be harmful to people, plants, and animals? Water Defense, an environmental group, has been at the forefront of voicing these concerns.

In response, the local water authority tested and confirmed that, in fact, the treated wastewater provided by Chevron was in accordance with existing guidelines.

Water Defense insists otherwise, though. It says that it conducted its own tests and found high levels of acetone and methylene chloride, which can be toxic to humans, in the Chevron irrigation water. It also claims to have found traces of oil that should have been removed during recycling.

As Mother Jones reported last summer, there are rising concerns about what the use of oil wastewater means for organic food labels, for one thing. While there is a ban on petroleum-derived fertilizers for organic standards, the ban says nothing about what might show up in irrigation water.

Treating oil wastewater has become a pretty lucrative business. Energy producers have been seeking the expertise of companies that can treat oil wastewater quickly, effectively, and on the cheap. Some of the latest innovations include using algae to treat oil wastewater and even using electrical pulses to turn the previously contaminated water into clean water that can be used by farmers on their crops.

The major problem with treating oil wastewater is the cost. New technologies are rapidly helping to reduce the financial burden on producers, but with oil prices as low as they are, even cheaper solutions are needed.

One great thing about reusing wastewater is that the pipeline doesn’t have to just flow in one direction, so to speak. Santa Maria Energy LLC is just one of the producers finding new ways to reduce their footprint on water supplies in drought-stricken areas.

The company has won approval to build a pipeline to bring treated wastewater from a sewage treatment facility to their fracking operations. It’s a great example of energy producers stepping up to find a creative solution to real problems.

The state of California is likely to be the pioneer of finding innovative uses for the oil industry’s wastewater—even if that is the result of mounting legal pressure to do something about the tens of thousands of disposal wells that dot the state’s underground.

But right now, the wastewater-for-agriculture segment may be getting by on some unforeseen environmental loopholes that will come under greater scrutiny as the waste-not-want-not irrigation practice becomes more prolific.

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Deathrips's picture

Let them drink orange county they already do.

Wait again..i live here...fuck!!


Hitlery_4_Dictator's picture

Building massive cities in the desert, LOL. That and CA attracts every freak from every state in America. How do I know? I lived there for 10 years. 

chumbawamba's picture



Jesus Christ people are idiots.

I am Chumbawamba.

OrangeJews's picture
OrangeJews (not verified) Jtrillian Feb 19, 2016 12:11 PM

Bullish for Healthcare industry!

knukles's picture

1/3 fracking fluid, 1/3 irritated Fukushima style low salt sea water, 1/6 oily residue, 1/6 finely minced dead penguin skin, a dash of bitters, shaken not stirred over a cold rock from inner SF bay

FullLegarde's picture

"there are rising concerns about what the use of oil wastewater means for organic food labels"

It just means that Whole Foods can invent another meaningless lable for which to overcharge unscientific fruitbat consumers. 

Sokhmate's picture

Ingesting irritated salt sea water leads to irradiated bowel syndrome

Normalcy Bias's picture

...And a time saver in your kitchen! Just add vinegar to your already oily, tangy salad. Mmm!

PresidentCamacho's picture

This drought cycle may be over due to rainfall, but the subterranian ground water table has been reduced, it will be intereting to see the rate at which it can recover.


Anyone have any peer reviewed science on this subject?


Ms No's picture

I'd like to see some science on how fracking affects subterranian ground water levels.  But, the peer reviewed science will of course be provided by our captured government or the Oligarch monopolies that have captured them so.... never mind.

Normalcy Bias's picture

FL gets the freaks that couldn't make it out to CA.

reader2010's picture

For thousands of years human feces have been used as fertilizer. Humans have been eating their own shit for a long long time.

Jack's Raging Bile Duct's picture

Long diptheria?

Waste water is not just of excrement though. The article also discusses industrial solvents such as acetone and methane. These pose significant health risks to cellular life. Furthermore, you would be stunned at the levels of estrogen in municipal water supplies due to birth control pills. The same applies to many common medications, like OTC painkillers and various blood pressure and anticholoesterol medications. Drink up, bitchez.

Vashta Nerada's picture

The two things that clean water are dirt and sunshine. Coincidentally, putting wastewater on crops exposes that water to dirt and sunshine.

rubiconsolutions's picture

Sounds like an old movie...."Oilent Green"

Cynicles's picture

nevermind the carcinagens [and the crops that will suck that toxic shiite up]

yrad's picture

"Excuse me, waitress.. What weight is this water?"

Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Its diet water, it doesn't weigh 8.34 pounds per gallon.  It weighs around 7.2 pounds per gallon.

Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

"In response, the local water authority tested and confirmed that, in fact, the treated wastewater provided by Chevron was in accordance with existing guidelines."

Sure, its safe.  All you have to do is change the guidelines to make it safe.  Just like Fukishima radiation, just raise the acceptable levels, and voila---problem solved.

Normalcy Bias's picture

Aw, c'mon! We all know that Chevron would never make a mistake or cut corners.

Amish Hacker's picture

That one jumped out for me, too. Chevron's lobbyists wrote the guidelines, ferkrisakes. Then there's this:

"It’s a great example of energy producers stepping up to find a creative solution to real problems."

Might be worth mentioning that those wonderful energy producers are the same ones who are profitably polluting millions of gallons of our clean water in the first place.

PS. You don't get to know what chemicals are in the fracking solution. That's Chevron's "proprietary information."

Beam Me Up Scotty's picture

Just like the guy from Monsanto talking about how its safe to drink Round Up.  Of course, he wouldn't drink any though.

Bastiat's picture

He should been force-fed a quart on the spot.

Kickaha's picture

I'll lay a wager that if you ever had the chance to determine the precise nature of fracking fluid utilized by each fracker of Mother Earth, you would find no significant difference in the substances utilized and their proportions.  The same people float among all of the frackers and take with them their knowledge of what works best.  In most fracking states, it is illegal to discover what's in the stuff, so nobody can ever sue over intellectual theft of frack fluid "trade secrets".

If I were a Judge in an environmental case, upon getting a "trade secret" argument, I'd sua sponte order up the recipes for fracking fluid utilized by every fracker in my state, with a preliminary Protective Order to keep the info confidential for the time being, appoint a Special Master to compare the recipes, and upon receiving his Report on the subject (showing there is no significant differences in them), I'd issue a ruling stating that you cannot legislate a "trade secret" where none, in fact, exists, and then issue a decision letting the entire world know how many carcinogens are being regularly pumped into our water supply.  After doing so, I would then diligently avoid hot tubs, small airplanes, nailguns, and pillows. 

Sokhmate's picture

you wouldn't want to own a gun, either, also too. We wouldn't want you to double tap your cranium.

medium giraffe's picture

Every day the world seems a little more like a dystopian sci-fi nightmare.


Cautiously Pessimistic's picture

The guys at Tepco would like to have a word with California.  You see, they got tons of stored 'water' they would let go of for a song and a dance. 

g'kar's picture

the cure for california's drought is to deport all the illegals and fire the governor and legislature

Korprit_Phlunkie's picture

And take the money from the 100 billion dollar train and build water infrastructure with it

Francis Marx's picture

After hundreds of atomic bombs set off in the air over the past 50 years, let alone all the nuclear disasters,  we have been drinking waste water for quite some time. Do you really think the high cancer rates of today are natural?

Anopheles's picture

The high cancer rates are natural.   There's always been cancer, except now that people are living longer, the chances of getting cancer are far greater.   When people only lived to be 30 or 40 years old, many forms of cancer were less likely, and/or people died of other diseases or they didn't know what killed them. 

In fact, there used to be more cancer, caused by things like cooking over fires and being exposed to smoke.  Smoke from burning firewood is extremely carcinogenic.    Wood smoke is much more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke, becasue of tar and particulates. 

Francis Marx's picture

atmospheric radioactive particles are typically down to the molecular level. All a person needs is to ingest one to raise cancer risk.

Anopheles's picture

Those elemets are naturally occuring, and have been around for billions of years.   Our DNA has a repair mechanism to deal with errors in replicaiton caused by radiation and chemcials.   It's only when those repair mechanisms get overwhelmed that problems occur. 

As for radiation, have you ever checked your house for radon gas?  It's a huge problem, FAR bigger than your atmospheric radioactive particles. 

Dr. Engali's picture

I swear, just when I think things can't be more fucked up, along come another article pointing out just how ridiculous life has become. We're living the Onion.

Normalcy Bias's picture

During a recent bit of insomnia, I stumbled onto Alone in the Wilderness Part II, Dick Proenneke's account of his 30 year adventure in the Alaska wilderness.

Man, does that life ever look alluring, especially compared to this insane day-to-day shitshow.

goldsaver's picture

You know what the scariest part of this whole article is? This:

"In fact, Chevron pumped 8 billion gallons of treated wastewater to farmers in California last year."


So, California crops are currently contaminated with oil waste water. So, millions of consumers, world wide, are currently injesting oil company waste products. Lovely. Next time some kooky statist claims that we need the EPA or some other thug agency regulating our lives in order to be safe, please punch them on the face.

Francis Marx's picture

I used to work with a really nice guy from russia a few years ago. He grew up in the soviet era. He told me way back when, they would test food like fish that would come in by the truck loads for schools and so forth. He said you would not believe how much of that stuff was contaminated with mercury, radioactive and so forth. They would send a lot of it to the dump. He said it was stuff coming from the Atlantic ocean.

Anopheles's picture

I know a family who adoped a baby from a former eastern block country.   They found out several years later that he had high levels of heavy metals in his body. 

Captchured's picture

Getting the hydrocarbons out of wastewater on the cheap is not that big of a technical or economic problem. There are many physical, electrical, and chemical means of doing it. The elephant in the room is salt. We still only have 2 really viable ways of removing salt; distillation and reverse osmosis (RO). Both of those require a lot of energy. The ocean is ~3.3% salt. The water that comes out of a lot of oil and gas reservoirs is closer to 15% salt. If you do the math, what you come to find out is that is a whole lot of salt that needs to be removed from the water. Having said that, there are oil and gas wells that produce lower concentrations of salt water. Some coalbed methane wells, for example, produce water that can be used directly on crops.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't try to use this water source, but any conversation that doesn't start with the economics of removing salt is likely lacking an understanding of the problem. Because, quite frankly, if removing salt from water was easy or cheap we would never have drought issues anywhere in this world in the first place.

Anopheles's picture

There is an ion exchange method for desalinating that's much cheaper than RO or vacuum distillation.  It's new, and not used extensively becasue the water requires further treatment for drinking water purposes.    However the water should be fine for irrigation.

Yung Saver's picture

Good point.

I much prefer CA's strategy of replenishing depleted aquifers with wastewater effluent through the use of deep injection wells. Keeps the salt water out, and the already treated shit water (at least the idea is) comes out "cleaner" than when it goes in. Completely "free" secondary treatment. Typically, just add chlorine/chloramine/ozone disinfection and its drinkable. 

People are quick to rule out desalinization through regenerative processes (which are currently much cheaper, availible, and more scalable than Ion Exhchange). I would like to clarify that Ion Exhcange processes will likely not be used for drinking water applications as you mentioned, so I am inclined to believe it wont be used at any large scale in the near future - this is because people wont likely pay a shitload of money to make water "irrigable." When the shit hits the fan, you wont be allowed to irrigate domestically, just hydrate yourself.

Agriculture used approximalty 80 percent of California's fresh water in 2015. Crops will continue be irrigated using wastewater effluents which have been conventionally treated to environmental discharge standards. The lowest water consuming crops will be given presidence over heavy water using crops like almonds. However, much more water can be repurposed should we collectivly abolish meat consumption - which is the largest user of water within all agricultural uses.

This all, of course, is how things should naturally proceed if we were trying to be forward thinking. I realize this isnt always how Califonia rolls, tho ;)

While you may not be comfortable drinking water treated for direct potable reuse, I assure you this will be a neccessity going forward.


Gohigher's picture

The problem I see with re-injecting PTWW is the production of H2S.  SWDs inject a great deal of a reducing agent (bleach, ozone, ferric chloride) to get rid of these residual organics.  Under the right conditions (anaerobic) and the right bugs you get Hydrogen sulfide. BTW, environmental discharge standards is a relatively flexible term, and metallic salts are no longer an issue.  You would be totally fracked out if you knew of some of the latest technologies coming to market, soon. Sorry, Earth Justice Birkenstockers, soon you will have far fewer contaminants to fight lawsuits over. So why bleach the aquifers today ??  Chlorine is pretty ugly, old and unhealthy technology.

Anopheles's picture

There's no problem with trace amounts of acetone in water used for irrigation.  You aren't drinking it, it's being used for irrigation.  Acetone is also found/produced naturally in trees and plants. 

Methylene Chloride?  Not so friendly, but it does decompose in surface soils, as long as they are exposed to air (aerobic decomposition).  Deep underground water with methylene chloride contamination is a problem becasue it doesn't decompose.



Rock On Roger's picture

Sodium Chloride is a bit of a problem though.

Anopheles's picture

Yep, it is a problem.    Desalination with an ion exchange process is feasible compared to vacuum distillation or RO. 

RopeADope's picture

They are injected alot of the fracking wastewater back underground.

Out of sight, out of mind...