By Charly SHELTON
Hydraulic fracturing of rock layers to release oil – fracking for short – is a practice that is hotly debated in the country today. The process involves pumping water into the earth to produce tension which then breaks the rock layers from the inside out and releases hidden oil pockets, allowing them to flow closer to the surface for harvesting. The problem arises when the water mixes with other chemicals used in the fracking and mining processes, contaminating the water. This can then leak into ground water supply, which has caused great debate over its ethics and safety. One of the concerns in California is that the fracking water is being used to irrigate crops. This can lead to the chemicals being transferred into the foods we eat.
“I think most people’s reaction was the same, which is that this is problematic,” said Assemblyman Mike Gatto who represents the 43rd District in the California State Assembly and author of the new bill ABX2-14. The bill seeks to label the foods irrigated with fracking water either on the packaging or, if sold out of package like produce at the supermarket, labeled prominently on the sign with the product name and price.
The use of fracking water originates from concerns about the drought in California.
“This is water that you would not go swimming in,” said Gatto. “It’s water you most certainly would not drink and it’s water that that gets into soil where we grow our crops and, in many cases, depending on the plants, that actually gets in the crop itself. That’s very problematic.”
The water can contain traces of chemicals that are used in the rest of the fracking and collection process. These chemicals, according to The Frac Focus Chemical Disclosure Registry, are used in different quantities and by different crews as additives and as chemical agents themselves. Among the most commonly used chemicals are hydrochloric acid for dissolving minerals and initiating cracks in the rock, isopropanol, a.k.a. rubbing alcohol, as a stabilizing agent, hydrotreated light petroleum distillate (which, according to the CDC, is UN hazard class 3 and can cause cough, diarrhea, sore throat and vomiting upon ingestion) as a carrier fluid for borate, and ammonium persulfate (which is used to make tires) that allows a delayed breakdown of gel used in fracking. These are just three of over 50 commonly used chemicals in the fracking process that can, in different quantities, leak into the water which is then used to irrigate crops.
“I just want to make sure that people are informed,” said Gatto. “Most of my experience is that there are a lot of labels out there that mean very little to people. But I think this type of label is so important. We weren’t able to discern, but we believe that some crops were even being passed off as organic that were grown with this type of water.”
Some crops, like almonds, have very little water in the final product consumed by customers. But other crops, like cucumber and lettuce, are 96% water, according to a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture study. This water is only what the plant is irrigated with. And even with trace amounts in the water, a vegetable with 96% water will have a noticeable amount.
“I think there are a lot of people, my family being among them, who care very much about the food that you put on the dinner table and put in your child’s mouth,” said Gatto. “I just think people have the right to know if their food was irrigated with oil waste water.”
Gatto is garnering support for the measure and hopes to see some traction in the assembly by next month.
For more information on fracking chemicals, visit fracfocus.org/chemical-use.