Planning commission votes to recommend more oil wells in Kern

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Kern County Planning Commission voted 4-0 to recommend adding more oil wells in the county. One member abstained from voting.

The newly-revised ordinance for Kern County producers faces stiff opposition, with a coalition of environmental groups and local elected leaders saying the proposal doesn’t do enough to protect the environment or Kern’s most vulnerable communities.

The proposal would allow up to 2,697 new wells per year for the next 15 years in Kern. That would allow for more than 40,000 new wells in the county by 2036. Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt presented the plan before the commissioners and endorsed it.

“It’s essential we adopt this protective ordinance,” she said.

This plan comes five years after a judge struck down part of the county’s 2015 oil and gas permitting plan, saying it did not achieve certain environmental protections. That plan would have allowed up to just over 70,000 new wells by 2041.

Now, industry stakeholders who support the new plan point out 25,000 jobs in Kern’s economy are either directly or indirectly tied to the oil and gas industry, which pumps hundreds of millions of dollars into county coffers through oil property taxes.

“California-based oil and gas and oil production — particularly in Kern County — provides an essential supply of energy that keeps our economy and citizens moving forward,” said Suzanne Noble on behalf of the Western States Petroleum Association during the public comment portion of the meeting. Jay Tamsi, president and CEO of the Kern County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, also expressed support.

“Thousands of Latinos have been able to provide for their families,” he said. “They have health insurance for their family members. Their college, and themselves, and have savings to retire into due to the oil and gas industry.”

But the proposal also came with strong opposition. Heading into the meeting, more than 7,000 people signed a petition urging commissioners to reject the ordinance.

“You cannot have drilling and healthy people at the same time. Keep the oil and gas in the dam ground,” said Tyler Chan. “I have to breathe the same damn air pollution that the oil and gas industry causes. I’m tired of this crap,” the 17-year-old continued.

Mercedes Mercillas of the Sierra Club echoed a similar sentiment.

“Oil executives are posturing to line their comments while the predominantly Latin community they claim to help are facing economic consequences. Nearly doubling the wells in our community would devastating for our climate.”

Alejadro Cebrea called on commissioners to reject the ordinance.

“It’s time to diversify our economy and invest in the job opportunities that have a future. The fossil fuel industry is dying and I will not let Kern County die with it.”

Oviatt pushed back against some of the criticisms.

“While characterizations have been made that Kern County cares only to allow oil to be produced, I think these 72 binders show and our years of public hearings show and our extensive environmental protection show, we are as interested as anyone in protecting the health and safety of protecting our communities.”

Supervisors will have a final vote on whether to approve or reject the ordinance in March.

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