Cawelo Water District’s irrigation water continued to prove to be a non-story as testing has shown nothing nasty is in the water, nor in the fruit grown with that water.

The latest round of testing showed oranges, lemons and mandarins grown irrigated with recycled oilfield water showed no chemical differences from fruit irrigated by other sources.

The fruit is safe. Repeat: the fruit is safe.

This comes on top of previous testing of grapes, almonds and pistachios that showed the same thing.

Produce grown using recycled water from nearby oilfields has not “bio-accumulated” anything bad.

It is safe.

As is the water, which has also undergone extensive testing.

And PSE Healthy Energy knows that.

At least the environmental group should know that since its executive director of energy, science and policy, Seth Shonkoff, is on a food safety panel assembled by the Central Valley Regional Quality Control Board to look at whether food grown with oilfield water could be harmful.

As a panel member, he has access to all the information I do, such as repeated water and produce tests that have so far shown zero cause for alarm.

Yet he put out a report late last month (regurgitated by a number of news organizations — sheesh) that tries very hard to link a host of scary sounding chemicals to that irrigation water.

The report doesn’t actually state the chemicals are in the water, but it definitely links the ideas.

What really chaps my hide is the report does not mention previous testing that has shown the water is safe and so is the fruit.

If he wants to put out a factual report, why not use all the facts?

Because, as I keep saying, Shonkoff and others do not care about food safety or water safety.

They want to shut down oil.

If you cut the flow of produced water to ag, then oil production ceases.

That’s the real goal.

Anyhow, Shonkoff was among a few of the food safety panel members and a vocal crowd of anti-oil activists who demanded that oil companies providing water for irrigation hand over a list of chemicals used in all oilfield operations.

Oil companies gave the Water Quality Control Board a list of 173 different chemicals.

That includes chemicals used during drilling, well stimulation and production — all separate phases of oilfield operations.

That’s important to note.

Because what a company uses in the drilling process and well stimulation has to be accounted for, cleaned out and properly disposed of.

Produced water, which is what Cawelo gets from Chevron after it’s cleaned up, isn’t part of those operations.

Produced water refers to the naturally occurring water that comes up with oil during production, hence the name “produced water.”

The point is, it’s not all one big gooey, toxic mess.

And Shonkoff knows that.

But his report, nothing more than a glossary if you actually read it, doesn’t differentiate between which chemicals are used in which part of the process.

A lot of what’s used in other parts of the business never makes it to the water shipped to Cawelo.

Though, you wouldn’t know that from the report’s title: “Hazard Assessment of Chemical Additives Used in Oil Fields that Reuse Produced Water for Agricultural Irrigation, Livestock Watering, and Groundwater Recharge in The San Joaquin Valley of California: Preliminary Results.”

And then in the intro, it states: “One important knowledge gap with respect to assessing potential human health and environmental hazards associated with reuse of oil field produced water for irrigation is an understanding of the types and amounts of chemical additives used during oil and gas development.”

Clearly, the not-so-subtle message is that bad oilfield chemicals are in irrigation water that grew the orange in your kids' lunch box so FREAK OUT.

Again, chemicals used in drilling and well stimulation have nothing to do with produced water.

And here’s the kicker: Cawelo did updated water testing back in August that included all the chemicals in Shonkoff’s report and then some.

Those test results, which are publicly available on the Water Quality Control Board’s website, show most of the chemicals Shonkoff lists aren’t in the water at all or are at such low levels they’re of no concern, according to Cawelo General Manager Dave Ansolabehere.

Funny how that seemingly relevant fact didn’t make it in Shonkoff’s report.

So far, Cawelo has spent nearly $1 million in the last year and a half just on increased testing, all of which continues to show the same thing — the water is clean and the fruit is safe.

Next up will be root crops, potatoes and carrots. Then a second wave of tests on grapes, pistachios and almonds. Plus quarterly water testing.

“We’re happy to test for whatever the Regional Board wants. We want to know, too,” said Ansolabehere of what is — and what isn’t — in the water.

Still, I’m sure all those test results won’t matter to Shonkoff and his pals.

That’s what happens when you let the agenda do the driving instead of the facts.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry. Her column runs Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at, call her at 395-7373 or email



Read archived columns by Lois Henry at


(6) comments


Nothing being shared indicates what the testers are calling "Safe" Modern water quality standards declare fluoride as safe when in reality its a rat poison, dulls the mental and emotional inner lights and makes the enamel on teeth erode. So just saying testing declares it safe is a glib statement that appears to just want to appease those who don't know to probe deeper. Whats the real breakdown of the percentages or parts per million of the spectrum of chemicals in the water? or are they only testing for certain ones and not even bothering to look for others?


the food and water tester’s prosperity appear 2 B closely linked to the wallets of oil producers....not that independent

Shares in Amec Foster Wheeler plunged by more than a fifth after the oil services giant said it needed more time to come up with a new strategy, and left all options open for cutting its £1.1bn debt pile....Amec Foster Wheeler has suffered with the oil price fall April you wrote:
After a spate of erroneous and sensationalized media reports last spring about the Chevron-Cawelo water, the water board required Cawelo to broaden its water testing (which it’s done since the inception of the program) to include a wider array of chemicals including acetone and methelyne chloride and about 70 others.

Cawelo had an independent lab, Amec Foster Wheeler, and toxicologist Heriberto Robles look over findings from all its water testing as well as test crop samples from inside and outside the district.


Ms. Henry,

Welcome to where it's at and always will be... water. Thank-you Maven's Notebook [blog] for linking me to another journalist in need of kind and gentle encouragement. I really do find it hard to believe that you (being the Pres. of a MWC) have to play the part of "surprised" citizen when confronted with the tactics of Big Oil, Big County Government or Big Political Special Interest Group. C'mon, you aren't fooling me. At least you get most of the facts right (compared to say, T. Sheehan at the F. Bee who can't get anything right to save his soul). So, even when you play dumb about the motivations, here are some things to consider:
You're dealing with hard science... Yes, the chain of custody is important, it preserves the integrity of the data that results. Government in Kern County is patronage based ($$), not service oriented. You have reflected correctly on how this may have future financial ramifications where you live. Why couch this insight as a surprise in your column? Being an officer in a small community water system brings you up close and personal to just how little you and your community matter to those elected. So, just like the Special Interest Enviro's, making the most of little of consequence becomes a way of doing business. In the end, it is the "court of public opinion" that seems to matter most. Which is exactly why getting some poisonous chemical spelled out correctly in the paper and shaming corporations/elected officials to be better public citizens becomes a valid course of action. Are we ever going to see a severance tax on oil in California? (like in TX, LA, OK, WY, etc.). NO, too many lobbyists in Sacramento. So, keep taking all the "Big's" down a peg or two whenever possible, punch over your weight class or you forfeit your right to a seat at the table when it matters most.


Jonathan Buck

Owner, Advanced Environmental Concepts, Inc
Bakersfield, California AreaEnvironmental Services


Lois....may Eye ask a question? Jonathan the tester... a son of Frank Buck?.....Frank was a graduate of Arizona State University ('55) and was employed by Shell Oil Company following graduation until retirement.


So what's your point? Lots of people work for oil companies, especially in Bakersfield. Do you think they don't want safe food for their families? Do you think the owner of a certified lab could secretly falsify data while under a magnifying glass as this one is? Give me a break. Hope the tin foil hat you're wearing fits tightly.

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