Initial testing of grapes and nuts that have been irrigated for the past 20 or so years with water produced from nearby oilfields shows (drum roll) a...BIG...FAT...NOTHING.


There was no chemical difference between fruits and nuts irrigated by oilfield-produced water in the Cawelo Water District and fruits and nuts grown miles away and irrigated with groundwater or water imported from Northern California or wherever.

There is no evidence that Cawelo fruit is "bioaccumulating" nasty stuff from recycled oilfield-produced water that could then bioaccumulate in humans.

In fact, all testing so far shows the Cawelo water is safe, with lower levels of some chemicals than are allowed in drinking water.

Much more testing is scheduled and a Food Safety Panel assembled by the State Regional Water Quality Control Board will continue to study this issue.

But so far, the news is that there's basically no news here.

I'm sure that won't calm all those folks with their hair on fire over the idea that, in some cases, oilfield-produced water can and should be recycled for other uses.

But that's what happens when people are blinded by their agendas (which, clearly, is stopping oil production in California.)

Well, this is my column, so we’re going to engage in a little thing I like to call “looking at the facts.”

Monday marked the second meeting of the water board’s Food Safety Panel this year.

Panel members indicated they still hadn’t received a complete list of chemicals and their volumes from Chevron and California Resources Corporation, which both provide water to Cawelo.

That’s basic stuff panel members said they need to get started.

But that was provided to the water board last fall, according to Chevron spokeswoman Abby Auffant.

“We gave the water board information on all chemicals used at all stages of our operations from drilling to what’s used for oil and water separation,” Auffant said.

The company didn’t include volumes as that varies depending on specific needs. But, Auffaunt said, Chevron told the water board it would get volumes if that was needed.

“We’ve never been asked,” she said.

It’s unclear why panel members didn’t have that information.

Either way, that didn’t stop Cawelo from proactively doing its own testing. Cawelo’s findings were presented to the panel on Monday.

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.

“The data that have been produced so far shows the water meets all standards for irrigation,” Robles told the Food Safety panel on Monday. “Organic compounds are at or below drinking water levels. Based on the data, we believe the water is safe for crops.”

Specifically, tests showed that petroleum hydrocarbons in the water were 750 times below safe concentrations for drinking water.

Acetone, which is naturally occurring, was 280 times below drinking water standards.

Cawelo also tested almonds, pistachios and grapes harvested last summer both in Cawelo and from fields outside the district that weren’t irrigated with oilfield water.

Results showed no real differences between the crops.

Natural oils were found in the nuts and, predictably, no oils were found in the grapes.

Acetone was found in all crop samples.

Methelyne chloride (which isn’t known to be associated with petroleum) was detected in one almond from the non-oilfield water irrigated field and in one pistachio from the oilfield-irrigated field. The higher concentration was found in the non-oilfield irrigated field.

And, by the way, the Cawelo crops tested were from mature trees and vines irrigated with the oilfield water for between 10 and 20 years.

If bioaccumulation was happening, it had more than enough time to show itself in these crop samples.

Even so, Cawelo is committed to more testing, said Dave Ansolabehere, the district’s general manager.

Panel members suggested looking at different crops, testing the soil, more frequent and broader water testing, using specialized labs and they wanted to look over Cawelo’s testing and monitoring plan prior to its implementation.

Ansolabehere agreed to it all.

“We believe there is nothing wrong with this water so we’re more than happy to sample it regularly,” he told the panel on Monday.

He told me later that Cawelo wants to get as much information out to the public as possible so people can see that not only is the water safe, but so is the soil and the fruit.

“We wouldn’t use this water if we thought it would damage our crops,” he said.

His hope is that as the facts mount up and continue to show the water is safe, the furor will die down and the public will see that food grown with this water contains nothing but good healthy stuff.

I would have the same hope except that’s not what this is about.

Opponents don’t care about the food, or how much damage they do to Kern County farmers with their baseless insinuations.

They want to stop oil production.

They know if oil companies can’t find a place for the massive amounts of water that come up with each barrel, boom, oil in California is dead.

The problem with blindly following agendas, though, is you often run smack into a wall of 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

Lois Henry appears on “First Look with Scott Cox” every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM and 96.1 FM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on You can get your 2 cents in by calling 842-KERN.

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