July 16th, 2015
Toxic Tour with Center for Environmental Health (CEH)
On July 16th 2015, Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN), Clean Water Action (CWA), Global Community Monitor (GCM), and Center for Environmental Health (CEH) embarked on a local toxic tour in Kern County focusing on oil operations near communities. Organizer Gustavo Aguirre Jr. from CCEJN and Rosanna Esparza from CWA took the CEH Bay Area nurse team and organizer Jessica Hendricks from GCM on a tour to see first-hand the proximity of oil operations and communities in the Central Valley. The first stop on the tour was the Kern River (Chevron) Oil Field in East Bakersfield, the second biggest oil field only next to the Belridge Oilfields in western Kern County.
There we met with Rosanna Esparza who gave everyone an overview and historical background on the oilfield and its origins, the nurse team had great questions and was impressed by the size of the oilfield. From this site we traveled through the City of Oildale which is fence line to the Kern River Oilfields and has been noted for some of the poorest public health rates throughout the county. After touring the City of Oildale we traveled into the Cawelo Water District, which gets the majority of their water from Chevron and the Kern River Oilfields, here they mix the produced oil water with well water to be sold later for irrigation on the west side of the county. At this site we can clearly see where produce waste water from oil operations is mixed with well water to be diluted and canaled to communities like Shafter and Wasco to be sold for irrigation on Non-Human consumption crops. Using Google Earth, one can clearly see the mixing of oil into water, which raises many questions about this site and the ethical practice of the Cawelo Water District. At this site there was a very strong odor of hydrocarbons to a point where we could only be there for a couple of minutes before we felt slight head and stomach pains. However, it is important to highlight places like this that often get overseen by the general public and experts to public health.
Other sites we visited that were important to talk about were the evaporation ponds near McKettrick and also the City of Lost Hills where they are also fence line to oil operations such as fracking. Rosanna has worked very closely with community members from Lost Hills where the majority of Hydraulic Fracturing has taken place in the region, Jessica Hendricks from GCM and Gustavo Aguirre Jr have also joined her in community meets in Lost Hills to do community outreach and possibly embark in future projects with community members.
The CEH team felt it was important to see and visit first-hand the proximity of communities and oil operations. There were questions that cover larger topics in the Central Valley and our collaboration with everyone involved will continue to seek to find solutions to large problems such as the oil industry in Kern County.