SHAFTER — I took a windshield tour last week to see hydraulic fracturing operations around Shafter, just northwest of Bakersfield. Oil and ag are side by side here -- right on top of a city of 17,000 people.
I saw the site where Vintage Production California LLC discharged chemicals and water into an open pit. The fluid, containing boron, salts and other chemicals, had been injected into shale thousands of feet below to free up oil.
About 15 to 20 feet from that open pit was the edge of an almond orchard. Though there were only a little more than 125 gallons spilled, the location was uncomfortably close to a crop that people are supposed to eat.
The oil company, a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, agreed to pay a $60,000 fine and check the area for groundwater contamination.
The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board also has revoked a waiver that allowed oil companies to send their less-offensive drilling muds into these open pits.
The state appears far more concerned about drinking water in Kern County now. From the tour I took, I can understand why.
There is a wave of these fracked wells, which are much larger than the ones I remember when I grew up in Bakersfield. Some of these wells are inside orchards.
Where do oil companies get the water for fracking? Like anyone else using thousands of gallons of water, it's either pumped from the ground or purchased from a water district.
If it is purchased from a water district, it might be coming from the Friant-Kern Canal. That's San Joaquin River water, one local farmer told me.
Then he asked a very good question: Is that the best use for precious river water from a federal water project that is based in Fresno County?