Oilfields Offer Alternative Water Source for Food Production
Posted June 10, 2020
For more than 25 years, natural gas and oil producers have been reusing oilfield water to irrigate farms in southern California. This industry-driven approach, which mixes oilfield and surface water, strengthens agricultural output and resource conservation in the drought-prone Cawelo Water District.
The use of oilfield produced water (OPW) for irrigation is permitted under California Water Board policy, and a new study by researchers at Duke University and RTI International confirms that OPW is “of comparable quality to the local groundwater in the region.” The practice, which does not pose major risks to crop or human health, has benefited farmers faced with increasing water shortages.
According to the experts at RTI International:
“…[O]ur results suggest that there are best management practices that can be used to optimize the safe and sustainable use of oilfield-produced water in the Central Valley now and in the future.”
Agriculture and energy are the leading industries in California’s Central Valley, and building resiliency in the “food-energy-water nexus” is critical to the area’s economic development and environmental progress. Treatment technologies for water produced from oilfields serve as a creative solution to water scarcity issues, which are front-and-center in an agricultural region essential to feeding America.
The peer-reviewed research, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture, involved collecting soil, OPW, irrigation water and groundwater samples from sites across the Cawelo Water District and analyzing them for a wide range of contaminants, such as salts, metals and radioactive elements.
While the oilfield-mixed water, a byproduct of local natural gas and oil extraction sites, showed higher salinity and boron levels relative to natural groundwater, this remains within state guidelines for drinking water and irrigation – though the researchers note this assumption may not be true for oilfields outside Kern County, California.
Dr. Luis Cabrales, an associate professor of engineering at California State University Bakersfield, concluded:
“In the end, we are talking about finding the economical and sustainable way to increase the reuse of produced water in agriculture. This could lead to an increase in crop production, or at least to maintain the level of production, with several challenges on this region such as climate change and changes in regulation of groundwater.”
Environmental scientists, engineers and policymakers have recognized the unique challenges facing farmers in the Central Valley and developed an innovative solution – using industrial and agricultural reuse – to meet the local economy’s irrigation needs. By collaborating across industries, America’s natural gas and oil producers are supporting access to reliable energy and affordable food, while protecting the health of communities and the environment.
For more information about ways to reduce, reuse, recycle and treat waste products generated from energy exploration and production, see here.
About The Author
Sam Winstel is a writer for the American Petroleum Institute. He comes to API from Edelman, where he supported communications marketing strategies for clients across the firm’s energy and federal government practices. Originally from Dallas, Texas, Sam graduated from Davidson College in North Carolina, and he currently resides in Washington, D.C.