In California, the ground is dry, cracking, and sinking faster than ever. Farmers are walking away from hundreds of thousands of acres of croplands because there is no water to irrigate. Golf courses and celebrities are shamed for watering their green lawns. But in the fourth year of the worst drought in California’s history, those who wish to save the Golden State have another silent enemy in the fight against the drought: oil refineries.
While farmers and other businesses are forced to cut back on water use in a desperate attempt to slow California’s steady sinking, the oil industry has been allowed to maintain their water usage. And that usage is significant. Oil refiners are estimated to be the second largest water user of non-agriculture businesses in California (golf is the first). For each gallon of oil refined, between 1 and 2.5 gallons of water is used, most of which ends up being dumped into the ocean or evaporated as steam. The water, once in the ocean, can’t be used unless it’s desalinated.
California is the third largest refiner of oil in the nation, after Texas and North Dakota, and the state doesn’t keep stats on how much water the refineries use. Mother Jones investigated, asking the six companies that make up 90 percent of the state’s refining capacity, to share their figures. Although three declined to comment, the data released by the other three provided enough of a baseline to extrapolate that, at full capacity, oil refineries use 94 million gallons of water per day in California. As Mother Jones reports, that’s more than twice as much as the daily water use of San Francisco homes. Just let that sink in for a while.
Via Mother Jones