The City of Arvin illegally approved four oil and gas wells within city limits in 2018, a Kern County judge ruled Friday afternoon.
Superior Court Judge Kenneth C. Twisselman ordered the City of Arvin void the project.
“This case sends a really strong signal that the oil industry,” said Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment Senior Attorney Chelsea Tu. “It can not do just whatever it wants. It needs to follow environmental laws.”
CRPE, along with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP, filed a lawsuit in October on behalf of the Committee for a Better Arvin, made up of Arvin community members that fight for a better quality of life for Arvin residents.
The lawsuit challenged the City of Arvin’s decision to approve the wells — proposed by Petro-Lud, Inc.– without conducting any environmental review under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Because the city granted the permits for the wells under a small structure exemption, no environmental review was needed. Tu said the type exemption that was granted for the wells are used for small buildings, not heavy industrial projects.
“They are not allowed to use the permit they got from the city since the court ruled the permit illegal,” Tu said.
Community members spoke up after they learned the wells were set to be built near homes, apartments, a park and schools.
“For us, this case is very important because our community is surrounded by a lot of pollution,” said Estella Escoto, Arvin resident and president of Committee for a Better Arvin. “In my community, there are a lot of people suffering from asthma, allergies and cancer. That’s why we believe it’s not just or fair that the industry wants to build new wells in our community.”
Arvin is one of the poorest cities in the state, Tu said. Residents face exposure to ozone and particulate matter at concentrations higher than 94 to 98 percent of the rest of the state, in addition to some of Califonria’s highest levels of pesticides and drinking water contaminants, according to CRPE.
Tu hopes residents take away two messages from the ruling.
“One is that the immediate impact is (residents) can go home and know their community is safe from four more oil and gas wells,” she said.
“The second message — the bigger message — to residents is that environmental law is there to protect them,” Tu continued. “Even through they have been forgotten and pollution has been dumped on them for so long, this victory means new hope for them. Their health matters and the law is there to protect their environment and their health.”
Tu credits Committee for a Better Arvin for putting in a lot of the hard work.
“They have stayed so strong in their fight to protect their health,” Tu said.
The City of Arvin has 120 days to comply with the court’s ruling once the final judgement is issued.
Twisselman said the court is not here to decide if this project was good or bad.
“I am not for something here. I am not against something here,” he said. “If the respondent has the right to drill for oil, as long as they abide by CEQA. I am not sending any kind of message that there should be no more oil wells in the city of Arvin.”
South Kern Sol is a youth-led journalism organization in Kern County. In their stories, youth reporters shine light on health and racial disparities in under-served communities across Kern. For more stories by South Kern Sol, head to southkernsol.org.