Christine Zimmerman

Christine Zimmerman

How much science does it take to convince anti-oil activists that our water is safe? That is what I wondered as I read comments made by Jessica Wohlander in her letter to the editor dated Oct. 21 regarding the safety of beneficial reuse of oilfield produced water for irrigation purposes.

There is absolutely no “perpetuation of misinformation” in Lois Henry’s columns on the subject. In fact, she drilled down past the rhetoric and delivered an accurate representation of facts presented by PSE Healthy Energy in their Oct. 4 “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” as well as other scientific testing and research conducted by both the agriculture and petroleum industries.

I would point out the PSE Healthy Energy’s title includes the words “Preliminary Results.” Preliminary. As in, we have done the first part of the work and pointed out the recommended next steps, but aren’t at the end of this yet.

Everyone involved in this effort is working hard to address the Food Safety Panel’s recommended process. There are constituents in oil field produced water for which a standard and EPA-approved testing methodology have yet to be developed.

Both industries, as well as the State and Regional Water Boards, the Food Safety Panel and the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources are aware of this. This is one of the good reasons for appointing a multi-industry group of experts to the Food Safety Panel.

Equally important to note is that no evidence of any hazardous concentration of constituents has been found in any crop tested to date. In fact, crops irrigated with beneficially reused and blended oil field produced water are identical to crops irrigated with other sources of irrigation water.

As an engineer who was born in this valley and who is raising a 9-year-old daughter here, I see the irresponsibility of emotional statements like “People’s health should be more highly valued than industry profits.” Of course it should. Not only should it, but it is.

Those of us who work in agriculture and petroleum also live here. We eat the produce and drink the water. We give this produce and water to our precious children. While it may be convenient and feel righteous to say “This practice and its proposed expansion pose a serious threat to our agricultural economy and should be stopped immediately,” the facts remain that we face severe drought and overdraft of our groundwater basins in the Central Valley.

We also carry the water debt for food and energy production for significant portions of the U.S. and the world. In addition, a significant portion of our population lives at or below the level of poverty; they cannot shop at high end markets.

As such, it is our goal to provide safe and affordable produce and energy. These obligations are most serious and carry the responsibility to be increasingly aware of the opportunity to reuse what precious water we have.

We’ll continue to do so, while setting the standard for good science and technological evolution. The next steps from the group of agency and industry folks will continue to move this process forward in a responsible — and fact-based — manner.

Christine Zimmerman, of Zimmerman Consulting, has a BS in Geological and Earth Sciences and an MS in Geological Engineering. She is a wife, mom and native of Taft.