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Investigative report questions study that claims oilfield wastewater could safely irrigate fields

Christina Lopez
An oil pumpjack operates near the Kern County City of Arvin.

In 2018, The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board commissioned a study to determine whether the wastewater produced during petroleum extraction could be used to safely irrigate fields. The study was prompted by concerns from legislators and the public after learning that the water that surfaces at oil and gas wells, called produced water, had already been pumped for decades to a water district north of Bakersfield, where it had been treated and blended with fresher water before being provided to growers for irrigation.

Liza Gross is the West Coast Reporter for Inside Climate News.
Liza Gross
Liza Gross is the West Coast Reporter for Inside Climate News.

The study,published last fall, ultimately found no identifiable health risks associated with the practice. But a recent investigative report by Inside Climate News uncovered conflicts of interest among the authors and reviewers of the study, as well asknowledge gaps that call into question whether its authors even had enough information to reach their conclusion. In this interview, KVPR’s Kerry Klein speaks with West Coast Reporter Liza Gross of Inside Climate News about her investigation.

Kerry Klein is an award-winning reporter whose coverage of public health, air pollution, drinking water access and wildfires in the San Joaquin Valley has been featured on NPR, KQED, Science Friday and Kaiser Health News. Her work has earned numerous regional Edward R. Murrow and Golden Mike Awards and has been recognized by the Association of Health Care Journalists and Society of Environmental Journalists. Her podcast Escape From Mammoth Pool was named a podcast “listeners couldn’t get enough of in 2021” by the radio aggregator NPR One.