Talking with Tom: An Interview with Mendocino County Sheriff, Tom Allman

Photo: poster from the Anti war site, Blood For Oil.

(The photo may be a bit over the top but I couldn’t resist the connection)

“If we don’t do something to clean up the marijuana problems in this county, we risk the Feds coming in here—the National Guard coming in.” Sheriff Tom Allman’s voice rasps over the phone as he stresses this point.

Some Marijuana Growers Damage the Environment

According to Allman, some marijuana growers cause more damage to the environment than individual loggers. He relates how one grower clearcut the top of a mountain, planted it with sensimilla and stuck a 215 permit in the middle of the raw land. “If any of the local loggers had done something like that, they’d be in prison breaking large rocks into little bitty pebbles.”

Diesel Grow Scenes—Incredible Environmental Damage

Three months ago, Sheriff Allman arrived on the site of what he called, “the most grotesque environmental damage” he had ever seen. The 5000 marijuana plant underground facility was powered by two 400 kw generators. Machines this size generally cost over $50,000 each and, because of their enormous bulk, require a trailer to pull them. A normal house generator is only about 5-6 kw–roughly 1/70 the size of these behemoths.

Generators require regular oil changes. While the exact figures for the generators on this site were unavailable, they probably had an oil capacity of around 8 gallons each (click here for pdf with specs) and were changed around every 5 days. Between the two generators, that is about 240 gallons of oil a month or about 600 gallons per growing cycle.

Where were the growers disposing of their waste?

Sheriff Allman’s voice grew soft as he explained where those hundreds of gallons of oil were dumped. The growers poured the waste into “a redwood septic system—a system designed to leach into the ground. And this system was only 100 yards from the Eel River.” Thus, for every cycle the growers completed, 600 GALLONS of hazardous waste oil was dumped near the Eel River.

Translating Sheriff Allman’s Account into Numbers

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “Just one gallon of used oil has the potential for contaminating 1 million gallons of drinking water.” Thus one growing cycle could contaminate 600 million gallons of our water (roughly 100 million more gallons than the city of Fortuna uses in an entire year).

Many 400 kw generators burn 28.6 gals per hour each or 57.2 for the two generators together. Many indoor scenes run on 12-16 hour cycles– averaging about 14 hour days. This is 800.8 gallons per day. Each cycle is about 2 ½ months (75 days) or about 60,060 gallons of diesel burned.

Figures on how many pounds of processed marijuana such an operation can generate vary but each generator can run approximately 320 grow lights. Estimates of weight per light vary, but just under a pound would be an average of figures given. .8lbs per light times 320 grow lights equals 256 pounds per cycle..

Double that because there are two generators—512 pounds.per cycle. To figure out the amount of diesel consumed per pound grown, divide diesel by pounds. The resulting astounding number is 117.3 gallons of diesel consumed per pound grown. For the same amount of fuel, Roughly 27 acres of conventionally grown soybeans or 32 acres of corn could be produced in a year.

And of course, there is the damage to lungs. According to The National Resource Defencse Council, “studies in Southern California indicate that 70 percent of the estimated lifetime risk of cancer from air pollution is attributable to diesel exhaust. Children are particularly susceptible to diesel’s health effects, because they are particularly vulnerable to air pollution. Their still-developing lungs are more sensitive, and they breathe more air (and thus more pollution) relative to their size than adults do.”

To Be Continued on Friday (link to PART 2)We’re targeting known growers now.” Says Sheriff Allman

Rose linked to this post with a point about Local Environmental Organizations

Cristina, local reporter and blogger (Nocturnal Nomad), with more about how locals have formed a group to try and stop the environmental damage done by marijuana growers.

Eric, SoHum blogger, with more about the subject.

See also

Small Town Disclaimer:

Tom and I were in Student Government together in High School and the impression I have of him as a warm funny guy with an honest streak a mile wide still sticks with me. Plus my mother thinks his mother is wonderful (This last might seem a small matter to those of you raised in large cities but, in small towns, family friendships are part of the old boy network or, in this case, the My-Mom-and-Your-Mom-are-Friends network.)



  • Wow, Kym…what a great piece of reporting! Really impressive. I hope a lot of locals up there and the buyers down here read this and think about the damage being done. It sounds like this has gone way past any idealistic notions of “Hey man, it’s just some natural herbs…” This is industrial-scale stuff and a totally unregulated industry at that.

  • Well, I guess I should mention that arrest and imprisonment is a very real form of regulation, but you get my point…

  • The problem is that because, by its nature, it is unregulated, individual Marijuana growers can be incredibly irresponsible but, I believe most are good people doing the best they know how to environmentally correct.
    I just want to further the conversation on how we as a community can correct the abuses.

  • You’re definitely adding to the conversation, Kym, and that’s important.

  • If my calculations are correct, that comes to just over five-hundred dollars a pound of pot for fuel alone. Then there is the cost of the generator, the cost of oil and repair, the lights timers and maintenance. The grow shed, and the excavation of having it buried. The security system, the labor to trim and harvest. Then there is the contingency of having a crop failure for some reason or another.

    Wow, how do they make money? They must be crying the blues along with the rest of us with all the increased prices.

  • Linked. Amazing stuff, Kym.

  • Thanks, Jen and Rose.

    Ernie, I was trying to figure out round numbers. I came up with $250/ pound to trim, $500 per pound for fuel (for these guys–a smaller operation than the one above would probably cost more per pound for fuel) $200 per pound for the generator (but that is only for one run, then it is free) $200 per pound per light (again after the first run, they would be relatively free). But the other things you mentioned seem individual. But let’s throw an arbitrary $1000 on top per pound. They are still making a $1000 a pound profit–and after the first cycle(when generator etc. paid for) they would make more.

    Pretty speculative numbers though.

  • Incredible. ‘Cause we’re talking about a WEED. It’s funny isn’t it.

  • I thought the Feds were already there. But the National Guard coming, too? I wonder what it is Tom is expecting in his county. Looking forward to the rest of the interview.

  • …not only do I think his mother is a wonderful lady but Tom and I share the same birthday (not year-just date).
    Very interesting article.

  • Rose, I think making marijuana legal would solve most of the problems associated with it except that Humboldt Countys’ economic situation would take a nose dive. Still, this country should go back to treating pot like the weed it is–nobody’s business but the people whose yard it grows in.

  • Robin, I think Tom was talking about an intervention like Operation Green Sweep–where the army or some equivelent starts showing up here. At least, that is how I understood it.

    Mom, Tom says to say HI.

  • Thanks for bringing this out into the light, Kym (pun intended).

  • Legalize it, regulate it, tax it. Just like tobacco and liquor, which arguably do more harm. I have never smoked marijuana, but in case I ever need medical marijuana, I don’t want the Feds interfering, as they do now. Some people get addicted to it, just as some people get addicted to alcohol, but I am willing to live with the risk.

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  • The counties should require (by Law) that all diesel retailers must affix their tag to the tanks they service.

  • Ben I love that idea. I spoke to Cliff Clendenen about Tom’s ideas for putting teeth into environmental laws and we couldn’t figure out a way for diesel dispensers to be held responsible without growers being suspicious that addresses were going to be used against them. I think that is a great solution.

    How could it be enforced?

  • The supplier would carry a digital camera with a tank photo from each delivery.

  • Kym… That was just off the top of my head but I do think it has possibilities. The locations would not be recorded, but the tags would be numbered. One of the principles of capitalism would guarantee that growers would try to work around this. I remember the days when Renner would leave a 2000 gallon trailer out near Hacker Creek back when the bridge washed out. That’s ancient history but I saw the trailer. We should consider that commercial fuel trucks leave a lot less diesel on the road than the pickup bed tanks. What a mess! I recall Hacker Creek as a pristine and bountiful watershed. I sure appreciate the folks working to clean this up.

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  • Ben, Your idea is what I’m hoping to gain from these posts. When we talk openly about the problem, we might come up with solutions.

  • I agree that the only way to stop this issue is by legalization and regulation. Why would someone spend so much money on fuel and generators if they could only get $500-$1,000 per pound? It just wouldn’t make sense to grow for a living unless you were a farmer with acres of land and a water source. Sounds kind of like how our country used to be before prohibition. In fact, we could go back to the time when hemp was our number one cash crop. Hemp could do wonders for the environment in many ways. It could be used for fuel, food, paper, and a myriad of fibers and it’s cheap and it grows like a weed. The answer is not to arrest people for growing (because we all know that responsible growers would get picked up with the irresponsible and yet the industry would continue and the price would rise) but return the cannabis plant to its previous harmless and useful state.

  • Lou, I agree that the industry will continue no matter how severe the punishment is. We don’t seem as a society to grasp that punishment doesn’t stop man’s search for pleasure be it prostitution or pot. The more difficult to grow, the more likely the grower is to grow indoors in an attempt to hide what s/he does.

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  • How would numbering the tanks help?

  • I would think that numbering would allow the diesel company to show when that particular tank has gotten diesel from them ie when they are responsible for it.

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