Kern County Planning Commission approves ordinance that will expand oil, gas extraction in Kern

February 16, 2021 /

The Kern County Planning Commission voted Friday to approve an ordinance that will allow 67,000 additional wells to be built in Kern County throughout the next 20 years.

The passing of this ordinance does not require any additional scientific study or review.

“Oil wells would not be built if the demand was not there,” said Planning Commission board member Gregory McGiffney. “You can’t shut it down tomorrow and expect magic to happen. We are not the ‘green jobs providers.’ Those have to be provided by the legislature and the market. We are here to plan for a better future.”

However, there was much opposition to the passing of the ordinance. The meeting began Thursday for four hours and continued to Friday morning due to the slew of public comments opposing the ordinance.

Lorelei H. Oviatt, the Director of Planning and Community Development, made a preliminary presentation outlining the proposed revisions to the current ordinance. This included some of the same revisions from previous years with updates, a reduction of the number of new wells allowed annually, and other small adjustments. A supplemental environmental impact report was also provided for evidence and clarification.

Oviatt stressed that property owners have mineral rights and therefore have a constitutional right to extract. Mineral rights are property rights to exploit an area for the minerals it harbors. According to Cornell Law, they are defined as, “The ownership of rights to minerals, including oil and gas, contained in a tract of land.”

“You will hear phone calls where they are pushing for a plan of transition, however, it is not a fully formed idea,” Oviatt said before the public comment period. “Comments saying Kern County does not support renewable energy is uninformed.”

This would later be addressed by some callers, who addressed these comments. One said she using a strawman fallacy. Straw-manning is to misrepresent or undermine someone’s argument to make it easier to attack
in order to make it appear as their own argument is more reasonable.

“How dare you invalidate the experiences of our communities,” said Sal Solorio Ruiz, a Delano City Council Member.

Julie Solis also said, “I am disappointed to hear our comments were dismissed before they were heard.”

Oviatt did not later address these concerns.

Almost 40 community members and Kern County allies called to give public comment at the meeting.

“Passing this ordinance is an act of environmental injustice and white imperialism,” Mercedes Macias, a representative of the Sierra Club and mother, said. “I urge you to oppose this ordinance.”

“I have worked beside communities who are affected by oil emissions. Kern county is already home to 80 percent of oil,” said Ashley Warner. “This ordinance denies residents their right to voice whether more wells should be built by their homes.”

One caller spoke on the lack of resources for non-English speakers.

“I request translations of environmental reports. Our population — 45 percent of the population — is Hispanic and impacted by these wells. Many do not speak or understand the language they need to understand what is
happening and these issues,” said Raphio Valencia.

A petition with more than 7,000 signatures was also delivered.

The next portion of the hearing was listening to 107 voicemail messages. The four-hour meeting ended at 11 p.m. but readjourned the following morning at 9 am. After all the messages were heard, the committee members made a couple of statements before voting on the proposed ordinance.

The vote was as follows: 4 YES (Gregory McGiffney, Lauren Skidmore, Ron Sprague, and Rick Singh Jhaj) and 1 ABSTAIN (Joe B. Ashley). No appeal will be allowed, and the ordinance will not be considered by the board of supervisors.