Students drill for knowledge in sponsored
science activity program

An early introduction to STEM education helps kids. Children sit in neat rows on the floor, fidgeting and eager. Educator Michael Nevels preps them for the hands-on science activity they’re about to explore. “When you get home today check out your jacket. Look on the label. If it says polyester or nylon, it was made from oil.”

These fifth-graders from Barbara Webster Elementary in Santa Paula are about to get their hands on the MOLU – Mobile Oilfield Learning Unit – a tech-focused science exhibit that surprises students when they learn many everyday products besides transportation fuels are made from petroleum. The six self-contained learning centers of the MOLU are designed to encourage, intrigue and inspire.

An early introduction to STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education helps connect these kids to fields with lucrative, high-demand jobs. That’s especially important for low-income students like those from Barbara Webster, where 99% of the student body qualifies for free or reduced-cost lunch. “For my kids, it’s a stretch for them to understand that there’s a possible job like this that could await them,” Principal Jeff Madrigal says. “This shows them that there’s the larger world of ideas out there.” The MOLU program is sponsored in part by local oil companies and is free for schools.

It’s all about the science

An early introduction to STEM education helps kids.Students most enjoy diving into the MOLU’s 24 activities: They can explore seismology, the carbon cycle, robotics, the science of drill bits, the sedimentation process and microorganisms. At one station, students peer through a microscope and see insects trapped in amber. Nevels watches with a smile on his face: After 35 years working as an engineer and scientist, he loves teaching youngsters how to observe and reason. “This is my true calling in life,” he says as he hustles to a station to help a group of students with questions.

Another educator on the scene is Bruce Carter, senior regulatory advisor for California Resources Corporation. At the microscope station, he poses a question: “Insects trapped in amber. What does that remind you of?” he asks the students, pausing. “Jurassic Park.”

An early introduction to STEM education helps kids.The students and teachers gave the MOLU a thumbs-up. “My mind was blown. I learned a lot,” said fifth-grader Carlos M., who was particularly impressed with the robotic arm used to gather balls in a basket. “I never knew oil turns into gasoline,” said Matthew V., another fifth-grader.

MOLU is a big help in the classroom, said Webster teacher Kristi Crisp. “It’s a great hands-on experience,” she said. She connects the lessons learned through MOLU with reading and research assignments in class. “It’s a nice extension. And it’s free.” In 2015, the MOLU visited schools all over Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Kern counties and served about 150 students per day.

The program also aligns well with the state’s Common Core Standards. “It was a win-win and it was in our own backyard,” said Christine Schieferle, assistant superintendent of educational services for Santa Paula Unified School District. The MOLU’s educational exhibit helps achieve the district’s mission of providing students with opportunities to learn about science and technology, and careers in those areas, Schieferle said.

A program built to inspire, teach

An early introduction to STEM education helps kids.Julia Nordstrom, one of the fifth-grade teachers at Barbara Webster, points to Santa Paula’s long history of oil exploration and production. She says programs like this one help open students’ eyes to college opportunities and to eventually pursuing a job in a high-tech field.

“I really like this program. It’s great. This is where jobs are going to be — technology and science,” she said. Many of those jobs will be available in their community. California Resources Corporation, a sponsor of the MOLU program, has prioritized investing in STEM programs.

One of the things that Principal Madrigal likes best about the program is that it’s so engaging: “They learn that science is fun, that learning is fun.” The kids themselves certainly seem to agree. When the session is wrapping up and it’s time to leave, one fifth-grader pipes up: “Can we skip lunch?”

Oil and agriculture: A mutually beneficial relationship

Farmers in California’s Central Valley supply more than 8 percent of all American crops and produce a quarter of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of the nation’s fruits, nuts and other table foods. You may be surprised to learn that half of California’s fresh water is reserved by the state for environmental habitat, rather than human needs. People divide up the remaining half of the state’s fresh water not devoted to ecology. Urban users receive about 10 percent of the state’s fresh water. Farmers are allotted about 40 percent, and that’s insufficient for the state’s essential agriculture industry and the people they feed. In 2014, more than 692,000 acres of California farmland were fallowed for lack of water, according to the California Department of Water Resources.
In the golden state, farmers and the energy industry work together.
Amidst one of California’s worst droughts, which threatens farm productivity, local oil and gas producers like California Resources Corporation are bringing a new source of water into the state’s water balance. These companies produce a mixture of oil, natural gas and water from underground oil and gas reservoirs to the surface. After separating out the oil and gas, they treat the water, called “produced water,” for recycling in their own operations or for other beneficial uses. In the San Joaquin Basin in the Central Valley, certain geologic formations contain produced water of sufficient quality that is suitable for use in irrigation. This reclaimed produced water has augmented irrigation water supplies for California farmers for more than 30 years, and today is a significant source of water for 45,000 acres of cropland in the Central Valley.

To address the drought, Governor Brown has asked all Californians to look for ways to increase the beneficial reuse of water to preserve fresh water supplies, water typically purchased from municipal sources, water districts and water companies. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, Californians use approximately 38 billion gallons of water per day. Oil and gas companies use little fresh water because they recycle most of the produced water from their oil and gas wells in their own operations. In addition, they treat and supply 16.3 billion gallons of reclaimed produced water each year to water districts and farmers to irrigate crops.

This reclaimed water is vital because, despite an El Niño year, three-quarters of California’s reservoirs were still below average capacity as of late March 2016. Water districts, which are struggling to provide water where needed during the drought, know how valuable reclaimed produced water is to California:

“We value our partnership with California Resources Corporation to address water supply challenges, particularly during this historic drought. CRC and other oil and gas companies supply water to agricultural water users, which helps alleviate the impacts of drought, and benefits agriculture and the people of California,” said Richard Diamond, general manager of the North Kern Water Storage District in Bakersfield.

Safe to use

Produced water originates in oil and gas reservoirs and is brought to the surface during the production of oil and gas. The oil and gas are separated out, and the reclaimed water is processed and treated before being delivered to water districts, where it is further blended with surface or ground water sources and then provided to farmers for irrigation.

The California Regional Water Quality Control Board closely regulates the quality of the reclaimed produced water as well as the blended irrigation water under specific state-approved permits. In fact, reclaimed produced water is monitored and regularly tested by an independent certified laboratory using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analytical methods to ensure that it meets the Regional Water Quality Control Board’s strict requirements. Those findings are publicly available. Additionally, a recent study using EPA risk assessment methods and standards validates that reclaimed water is safe and suitable for irrigation purposes.

Demand grows

Strict water conservation efforts help ease the shortage, but more help is needed. Oil companies provide additional relief. Augmenting agricultural water supplies with reclaimed produced water preserves more fresh water for people living in cities and towns, as well as for environmental habitat.

Cities are exploring all options to increase available water. Los Angeles recently announced a plan to capture urban runoff. Tree People founder Andy Lipkis, in a Forbes interview, said harvesting runoff could save 12 billion gallons of water annually in Los Angeles and supply 30 percent to 50 percent of that city’s water needs. To capture this water would require significant taxpayer spending on infrastructure. Meanwhile, significant infrastructure already exists in the Central Valley to deliver reclaimed produced water to agriculture. The state should expand this proven sustainable best practice.

Leasing mineral rights

The oil industry’s support for agriculture extends beyond supplying water. Oil companies bolster farmers’ bottom lines by leasing mineral rights to their lands.

Typically, mineral leases provide regular payments regardless of whether an oil and gas well is ever drilled. Later, if oil or gas production is established, mineral owners receive additional royalty payments. Newer drilling technologies, including horizontal wells and pad drilling, allow oil companies to access underground mineral reserves with a small surface footprint.

This means farmers and oil companies may work the same land simultaneously, providing a double benefit to farming families. The benefits are widespread: For instance, California Resources Corporation alone makes payments to over 13,000 mineral-rights holders, including many farming families here in the Golden State.

Oil and agriculture are two of California’s most important economic drivers, so it’s only natural that they work hand-in-hand to find solutions to nature’s challenges and meet the needs of modern society. Together, oil and agriculture can optimize resource use and conservation in ways that benefit all Californians and the environment.

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