Kern County Pushes for Thousands of New Drilling Wells


Drilling in Kern County. Image: John Ciccarelli/BLM

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

In California’s Central Valley, Kern County approved a plan to drill thousands of new oil and gas wells over the next 15 years. The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve as many as 2,700 new wells a year, a decision which came after hours of debate and much pushback from community organizers. 

Why This Matters: This ordinance flies in the face of Governor Gavin Newsom’s plans to limit the expansion of natural gas in California. Last year, he ordered a ban on the sale of new gas-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035 and also introduced a bill to ban all fracking by 2027.

Many of Kern County’s residents are concerned about the measure. Because the measure allows a single environmental impact report to approve tens of thousands of oil wells, this one-size-fits-all approach will fail to address different factors that vary by location such as natural habitats or proximity to neighborhoods.

The other fear is that expanded drilling would exacerbate already high levels air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley. Resident Daniel Ress said: “My wife is pregnant and as an expectant parent I worry about increased gas and oil extraction in my community. I worry about what that might do to my child both before and after they’re born.” 

Juan Flores, a community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, addedThey are willing to turn a blind eye to the chronic health problems, disastrous environmental impacts, and disruptions to already disadvantaged communities of color that adding tens of thousands of new wells would create.”

Keeping Crude Oil in California: California is the third-largest producer of crude oil in the United States and Kern County accounts for about 70% of the state’s oil production and nearly 80% of its gas production as of 2018. About 1 in 7 workers in the county of 900,000 has a job tied to the oil industry

As such, many of the county’s supervisors supported the measure. Many suggested that more oil wells provide high-paying jobs. Supervisor Leticia Perez, for example, told the LA Times that the oil and gas industry has represented a way out of “the incredible shame and degradation of intergenerational poverty,” especially for Latino families.

Moreover, County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt said this bill is an improvement from its 2015 iteration. This new revision creates larger buffers between homes and wells, mollifies drilling noise, and limits the number of new wells.

But environmental groups want to continue to fight the ordinance and its potential effects on pollution and resident health. As Mercedes Macias, a resident and a Sierra Club member, put it:The people of Kern County should not be sacrificed for profit. Oil executives would have you believe that the only way to see our community prosper is through continued dependence on the oil industry. That is not true.”

Bringing Jobs to San Joaquin: California is in many ways a microcosm of the rest of the nation, especially as it grapples with replacing carbon-intensive jobs with those of the clean energy economy. 

Yet, evidence shows that California’s push for greener policies has helped, not hurt, jobs in the San Joaquin Valley overall. 

As labor and climate researcher Betony Jones wrote for UC Berkeley’s Labor Center, climate deniers like former President Trump fail to paint an accurate picture of how environmental regulations affect employment: 

“Until recently, there was little public information about job impacts in the area hit most directly by the nation’s toughest mandates for emissions cuts: California’s San Joaquin Valley. The Valley is dominated by high-emitting industries, including petroleum extraction, power plants, and dairy farms—so if Trump’s climate denier talking points were true, this area should have suffered severe job loss as emissions reductions forced employers to cut production and lay off workers.

But the day before the president’s inauguration, we published an in-depth research report on those effects. The results were unambiguous: Even after accounting for as many of the costs as was possible, the state’s climate policies and programs have had a positive impact on the region’s employment and economy.”

 

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