BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The county Board of Supervisors on Monday unanimously approved a revised ordinance to streamline Kern’s oil and gas permitting process following an hours-long public comment session where an overwhelming amount of callers asked the board to reject it.
Supervisors noted the demand for oil has gone up in the past decade, and at a rapid pace. Why bring oil in from overseas — increasing the carbon footprint — when Kern can produce it cleanly here, several supervisors said.
“I think the bottom line is Kern County runs on oil and we’re the best at what we do here, and I think this is a really valuable asset that Kern County has,” said 1st District Supervisor Phillip Peters, adding that the industry has provided funding for public safety, schools and roads.
The revised ordinance projects adding about 40,000 new wells to the county by 2036. Kern Citizens for Energy has said the ordinance will create 25,000 jobs.
5th District Supervisor Leticia Perez noted many of those who called in to the board were from out of the county, and she questioned how genuine some of them were in their remarks.
Part of the soul of Kern County, Perez said, is enmeshed in the oil industry. She said the oil and gas industry has served as a way out of intergenerational poverty for many local residents.
“I think tonight is a night to celebrate,” she said. “I enthusiastically and proudly support this recommendation.”
3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard said the demand for oil will remain stable or go up for many years to come. He said it would not make sense to trade “the cleanest oil produced in the most clean fashion, probably in the world” for dirty imported oil.
Environmental experts have argued the wells could further pollute Kern’s air — ranked among the most polluted in the country — leading to more health issues for the county.
“Adding tens of thousands of new wells is decidedly not the way we build healthy, sustainable communities,” said Mercedes Macias, senior organizer in Kern County for the Sierra Club, in a news release. “The result of this vote isn’t the outcome we hoped for, or the one that has the best interests of Kern residents at heart, but the fight is far from over.”
Macias said she and others who oppose the ordinance will turn to the legislature to stop it.
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt, observing that many public comments raised concerns about health risks, said those risks were comprehensively detailed in the 2015 environmental impact report, which looked at environmental impacts over a 20-year period.
Additionally, Oviatt said there is no evidence the county would lose thousands of acres a year from agriculture conversion to oil. The planning commission recommended the board approve the new ordinance.
“What we are attempting to do is actually just stabilize this industry as we work through these energy transitions and support the environmental protection of our community,” she said.