Go to the Hollywood farmers market to sample La Nogalera's excellent walnut oil from the Santa Rita Hills in Santa Barbara County, and you may quickly identify the nutritional benefits for salads and vegetable side dishes. But what may come as some surprise to walnut lovers everywhere is the usefulness of those very same shells in commercial applications like patching oil leaks and cleaning up spills left behind by the oil drilling industry.

The low cost of the discarded shells, along with their non-toxic and chemically inert structure, make ground walnut kernels an ideal tool for off-shore oil and gas industry. Pulverized walnut shells can be used to create a natural asphalt to form and maintain seals of fracture zones in oil drilling. Other applications include water treatment and filtration devices made from walnut casings that clean oil polluted- and waste-water created by oil drilling.

Christopher Schubert, the man responsible for selling La Nogalera oil to customers at farmers markets from Santa Monica to Santa Barbara, wasn't sure what kind of role walnut shells could play in cleaning up the BP oil spill. “I would be so unqualified to answer that question,” he said. “But if there was any place to get walnut shells in any quantity, it's California.”

Hammons Products advertises numerous grades of ground walnut shells for industrial uses. The tough, bio-degradable structure of walnuts, or Juglans regia, can be used as an eco-friendly abrasive for air blasting machines to strip graffiti and paint from highly trafficked areas. The hard shell can also be broken down to a fine grain to polish metal, fiberglass, and engine parts. Kernel particles are added to paint to give it a thicker consistency. Even the cosmetic industry uses the naturally occurring abrasive as a featured ingredient for exfoliating cleansers.

Though Schubert isn't sure if his beloved California walnuts could contribute an ecological solution to the BP oil spill, he did wonder aloud about a recent series of missed business communications from a state known for its oil industry. “I did get a number of calls from Plano, Texas today,” he said. “Maybe it was for the walnut shells.”

Brooke Burton is also the author of Foodwoolf.com.

LA Weekly