By Randy Villegas
Community members and advocates held a press conference outside the Kern County Superior Court on June 13, just minutes before a court hearing on a lawsuit against a Kern County ordinance.
This ordinance would rubberstamp oil and gas projects and related practices such as well stimulation performed on an oil or gas well to increase production and waste disposal for decades. Rather than each project going through an individual environmental review process, this would streamline the process.
The County of Kern would issue a single Environmental Impact Report, to permit all oil and gas operations without further review for the next 20 or more years. People from areas affected by oil industry pollution spoke about how the ordinance was a threat to their families’ health before they entered the courthouse to observe the proceedings.
In 2015, Kern County amended its oil and gas ordinance to attempt to rubberstamp the construction of well pads, drilling operations, pipelines, and fracking and other well stimulation methods that use toxic chemicals. Advocates at the press conference claim that “the oil industry wrote these rules, and the Kern County Board of Supervisors adopted them wholesale”.
The county also issued a single Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to permit all oil and gas operations without further environmental review for the next 20 or more years. This EIR covers more than 70,000 future wells as one project, with no opportunity for further environmental review.
Using just one environmental report is unjustified said Gustavo Aguirre Jr., from the Central California Environmental Justice Network. “There is a campaign active here in Kern County to target unpermitted vendors of food. Why can’t our food vendors they get together and get a “free pass” for the next 20 years by just getting inspected once like the oil companies?” said Aguirre.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he added.
Gordon Nipp, the Vice Chair of the local Sierra Club Chapter in Bakersfield, called this ordinance outrageous. “This will keep the public from having input over the next 20 or so years! Air pollution, climate change, our biological resources are all issues that local folks need to be involved in. Kern County has chosen to put big oil’s interests ahead of our community.”
“Today via this litigation we stand up to them and demand better for our families, our health, and our environment, “ Nipp stated outside the courthouse.
The ordinance would cause a significant, cumulative increase in air pollution and greenhouse gases—including an increase in air pollutants. Something in which the county currently violates health standards. Kern County is already the most polluted area in the nation for particle pollution, and second most polluted for ozone pollution, with severe impacts to public health.
This ordinance could prove to be even more dangerous for South Kern, said Aguirre. “There are locations here in Kern County that the oil industry has yet to exploit. One of them being South Kern because of different ordinance zoning rules. There are two locations really, one is central Bakersfield, and the other is South Kern. There is a lot of potential for oil exploration,” he stated.
Residents aren’t only fearful about what this could mean for our air quality, but our water quality as well. “We have a lot of natural contamination already: Arsenic, nitrates and manmade pollution from oil industries back in the days. Through the exploration process they are exposing South Kern Residents to dirty air, dirty water, and now really the attack on natural resources on South Kern,” Aguirre added.
Advocates also claimed that Kern County also violated its fundamental responsibility to inform the community by disregarding requests to involve Spanish-speaking residents during the review process. In a predominantly Latino area (with over 52 percent Hispanic), advocates argued that many voices may have been left out because of this. Still everyone at the press conference stood together in solidarity. Aguirre and other residents urged the court to put people over profits.
“At the end of the day, we are here for the people,” said Aguirre.
To watch video of the press conference click here: