Kern residents plead with elected officials to stop the expansion of oil and gas in rural communities

February 13, 2021 /

Kern County residents, environmental and social justice advocates, and local elected leaders expressed their opposition to a proposed Kern County oil and gas expansion ordinance during a press conference this Wednesday.

If the ordinance passes, it would allow 67,000 additional wells to be built over the next 20 years with no additional scientific study or review. The speakers expressed their opposition, explaining that it could potentially put additional residents at risk due to exposure to chemicals produced
and emissions released by the wells.

Juan Flores, Community Organizer in Kern County for the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, spoke first. He emphasized the need for the county to stop depending on the oil industry and shift toward sustainable energy and practices to protect the future of communities that will continue to suffer if the ordinance passes.

“This proposed ordinance would silence the voices of the very people most affected,” said Flores. “New wells would be allowed with no public notice, no public comments, and no site-specific review or efforts to offset impacts, whether the site is in the middle of a farm field, next to an elementary school, or near a health clinic. Our community must stand up to stop this expanded drilling.”

Anabel Marquez, a community activist in Shafter, then relayed her own experiences in her city.

“Our children are exposed, for example, schools are so close to petroleum wells,” she said. “Shafter is a small town with over 300 wells.”

She has seen residents of Shafter suffer firsthand and the ordinance makes the future look bleak.

“How can we tell our already suffering loved ones we will prevail when there is no future when the County continues to sign off of the construction of new wells in our community,” Marquez said. “I ask that Kern County
officials end this and say no.”

Rosanna Esparza also shared her personal story. She listed all the side effects, symptoms, and statistics of the correlating data published by hundreds of studies about living near wells. She has lost 40 community members and her own husband to respiratory-related illnesses.

“It is the responsibility of the alleged leaders to be knowledgeable of the effects,” Esparza said. “We have studies all recently published pointing to the same issues for years. The information is accessible, they can even go outside and breathe the air. No matter if we speak in Spanish or English, we speak the truth.”

Bryan Osorio, the Maylor of Delano, was the only public official who joined the efforts. In local efforts, he already sees disadvantaged groups suffering during the COVID-19 and knows these same communities are impacted by the strategic positioning of such wells.

“In the years 2015-2019, 18,000 gas permits and many were issued in low-income communities that are home to a majority of people of color,” Osorio noted.

The ordinance would permit this pattern to continue.

Elizabeth Perez, Community Organizer in Kern County for the Central California Environmental Justice Network, emphasized the environmental threat of such an ordinance and the critical role our county has in holding state policy and standards.

“Oil and gas drilling is a significant contributor to climate change,” Perez said. “Oil and gas drilling leaks methane, known to be a climate change accelerator. As California faces historic wildfires and prolonged drought, this expansion of fossil fuels extraction would send exactly the wrong signal about how the state should approach climate change and the effort to enact social and environmental justice. For the young people in Kern County who want a climate-safe future, and for all future generations, we call upon the Planning Commission, Board of Supervisors, and Governor Newsom to abandon this proposed increase in local oil and gas extraction.”

Along with yesterday’s press conference statements, more than 7,000 petition signatures from local residents who oppose expanding oil and gas drilling in Kern County will also be delivered to the Kern County Planning Commission.