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Kern County Votes To Greenlight More Than 40,000 Oil And Gas Wells Over Next 15 Years

An oil well near a neighborhood in Kern County, CA.

The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a controversial ordinance Monday evening allowing the addition of more than 40,000 oil and gas wells over the next 15 years. The vote took place after supervisors heard 8 hours of public comments. 


The majority of those comments were against the ordinance. Small farmers, environmental groups and residents in the county were among those opposing the ordinance. 


Resident Daniel Ress said he’d read dozens of studies about the harmful effects of oil and gas drilling on people living nearby.


“My wife is pregnant and as an expectant parent I worry about increased gas and oil extraction in my community,” Ress said. “I worry about what that might do to my child both before and after they’re born.” 


But county officials argued the ordinance provides environmental mitigations that did not previously exist in other ordinances. Lorelei Oviatt, the director of Planning and Natural Resources, said oil companies will also have to pay for any water they use. That money will go to a fund for disadvantaged communities whose drinking water is being used by the oil companies, she said. 


Community organizers argued that’s not enough. 


 “They are willing to turn a blind eye to the chronic health problems, disastrous environmental impacts, and disruptions to already disadvantaged communities of color that adding tens of thousands of new wells would create,” said Juan Flores, a community organizer with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. 


His organization, along with 119 other environmental justice, labor, public health and community based organizations, sent a letter opposing the ordinance to the Kern County Board of Supervisors last month. The letter had more than 7,000 signatures. 


Oil lobbyists and labor union representatives were among those in favor of the ordinance. So were some employees of oil companies. Danny Gracia, who works as a general manager for one company, said he’s made a good career in the oil industry. 


“My intention in coming to the oil field was to provide a good life for my family like my brothers and friends. I did more than that,” he said. “ I made a career out of it. I gave my family more than I ever imagined.” 


Before the board's 5-0 vote, Supervisor Leticia Perez applauded the county for having what it considered to be the cleanest oil and gas regulations in the country. 


"I say Kern County is a model. It has the best, cleanest and most striking regulatory regime for oil and gas in the United States and really the world," the District 5 supervisor said. 


The ordinance will require local oversight of oil and gas drilling permits in the county in addition to permits from the California Geologic Energy Management Division. 


Madi Bolanos covered immigration and underserved communities for KVPR from 2020-2022. Before joining the station, she interned for POLITCO in Washington D.C. where she reported on US trade and agriculture as well as indigenous women’s issues during the Canadian election. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism with a minor in anthropology from San Francisco State University. Madi spent a semester studying at the Danish Media and Journalism School where she covered EU policies in Brussels and alleged police brutality at the Croatian-Serbian border.
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