From: Crystal Shepeard, Care2, More from this Affiliate
Published August 24, 2015 06:35 AM

Is fracking water safe to irrigate crops?

The race to find cleaner energy sources has led to a boon in hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in search of natural gas. Highly pressurized chemicals and water are pumped deep underground to break shale and release natural gas for harvesting. Residents and environmentalists have long been opposed to the process, which has seen an increase of health issues due to contaminated water. In drought stricken California, there is also concern about the amount of water being used in fracking operations, as well as what is done with the wastewater.

California farmers are frustrated with oil companies that have encroached on their areas. Fertile farm land is also filled with natural gas and there has been an increase in fracking operations. As the name implies, hyrdraulic fracturing is a water-intensive process. At the front-end, freshwater is infused with chemicals and is pumped into the shale. This has put farmers and oil companies in competition for the ever decreasing amount of water available.

As a result, more farmers are purchasing treated fracking wastewater from the oil and gas companies to irrigate their crops. An estimated 21 million gallons a day of treated wastewater are sent to Central Valley farmers. While this practice has happened for nearly two decades, the drought-induced increase has caused alarm. Through lobbying, oil and gas companies have been successful in limiting the amount of testing of the fracking water. The limited testing that is done is over a decade old and only tests for known chemicals and not the ones used in the fracking process.

California has been slow to act on regulation, but has started pushing for greater transparency. Last year, a law establishing stricter reporting requirements was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown last year. It requires companies to indicate the source of the water, what chemicals are used to treat it, and how the wastewater is disposed. The disposal report is required to include information as to whether the wastewater is reused in the fracking process, as well as if it is recycled and sold for other purposes – like farming.

Fracking well tower image via Shutterstock.

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