The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a massive increase in oil and gas drilling last week, despite having received major opposition from Kern County community members.
According to the Central California Environmental Justice Network, over 250 Kern residents and allies submitted public testimony against the ordinance, totaling more than 8 hours. And 129 community organizations also delivered a letter opposing the ordinance. Additionally, a petition with 7,000 signatures calling on the Board to reject the ordinance was submitted. All these forms of public outcry were ignored.
In a unanimous vote 5-0, the ordinance was approved by supervisors Phillip Peters, Zach Scrivner, Mike Maggard, David Couch, and Leticia Perez.
With the new ordinance, they have projected an increase of 2,697 new wells to be built annually. This would amount to 43,619 ranging from the years 2015-2035.
Kern County is home to some of the most polluted cities in the country. Currently, Kern has 78,000 drilling sites which contribute to pollution. The harms disproportionately affect the health of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC).
The passing of this ordinance will permit new wells to be added and pose a graver threat to public health and cause irreversible environmental damage. Many have called this an other senseless act of environmental injustice by Kern officials.
Many oil and gas wells are located in places that are already holding a disproportionately high share of the burden from air, water, and soil pollution from existing industrial activity, including higher rates of illnesses that are linked to pollution.
In order to justify the proposed ordinance, supporters who gave testimony focused on issues of the economy, current jobs provided, and the tax funds collected from to the oil and gas industry.
For example, Mary Barlow, the superintendent for Kern County Superintendent of Schools, cited that Kern’s population has increased by over 9 percent in the past 10 years and children represent 1⁄3
of the population.
“Any lost from the single largest economic driver in our county will disproportionately impact our youth,” said Barlow. “The taxes of the the petroleum industry pays help fund school construction and daily operations that ensure students prepared to become productive contributing citizens.”
However, such arguments were countered by the fact that the affects of such wells and reliance on the oil industry will cause more harm to the entire Kern community, including the children who live by these wells. Karis Franz, a resident of Shafter, spoke out. She expressed her disappointment with the fact that representatives of the oil and gas industries were given priority, explaining that the conversations surrounding such decisions tend to be lopsided.
“Proving this ordinance as it stands would be a short-sighted decision. A decision focused on the money in front of you rather than the long-term health and economic future of our county,” Franz said. “We are rapidly movie towards a zero carbon future. This plan should reflect a larger
plan to transition away from the fossil fuel energy, which it does not.”
The comments by Franz certainly reflect the opposition’s position that Kern cannot not continue to depend on an industry that contributes to pollution, climate change, global warming, soil erosion, water contamination, and chronic health issues of residents.
However, these comments of opposition were disregarded by the Board of Supervisors as they finalized the approval of the ordinance.