The Arvin City Council is scheduled to vote on a new oil and gas ordinance tonight finalizing the decision whether the city adopts new regulations making it more challenging for oil and gas companies to operate near the city’s schools, parks, and neighborhoods. Reporter Christina Lopez has more details on the future of the oil and gas industry in Arvin.
The city of Arvin is embraced by its residents as the “garden in the sun” -- but today that garden is surrounded by at least a dozen active oil and gas wells currently drilling near schools, parks, and homes.
Salvador Partida has lived in Arvin for over a decade -- a city with a gas and oil ordinance that has not been updated since the 1960’s.
“The change hasn’t been done since 1965. As of right now, we have homes closer to 50 feet away from the oil pumps,” says Partida.
The issue creates disharmony for Partida who lives near two oil wells.
“I have complained to every agency in Kern County that has anything to do with oil companies or the control of oil wells and the only answer that comes back to me is that it’s a small operator and that they are living with the old ordinance and under that ordinance they don’t have to do anything,” says Partida.
Partida’s complaints fell on deaf ears as his health concerns continued to mount.
“And the noise of this big diesel engine it runs all night long and when all the traffic calms down on the streets in the middle of the night, you can hear the diesel engine run like if it was right next to your window. The noise doesn’t stop; it’s 24/7 and the oil -- the smell of the crude oil, you could smell it a mile away and that smells horrible and that gets you sick,” says Partida.
Arvin’s landscape and the health of its resident could change after 6 o’clock tonight. As gas and oil industry members, community leaders including Partida as well as local working families are expected to pack the 80-seat council chambers for a public hearing resulting in a final vote to update the city’s 53-year-old gas and oil ordinance for regulation of petroleum facilities and operations.
Tracy Leach is the founder of the Kern Citizens for Energy Coalition and calls tonight’s vote significant.
“This oil production is our history, it’s our heritage, we’ve been doing it for over 100 years so having a city in Kern County take a pretty hostile position to oil production and the tens of thousands of jobs it provides is a little startling,” says Leach.
Leach says the new ordinance makes oil and gas production manageable in the City of Arvin. Despite the significant changes, Leach is more concerned with the mayor of Arvin’s recent comments surrounding the ordinance.
“The mayor has stated he wants to ban the industry so we strongly objected to his posture toward his own home county,” says Leach.
“What this ordinance does is it allows the oil industry to operate within the City of Arvin with reasonable regulations that are focused on public health and safety and dictate where oil operations can and cannot occur within the City of Arvin,” says Jose Gurrola -- the current mayor of Arvin. He’s a native of this rich-agricultural region of Kern County. He too, has been directly impacted by the oil industry four years ago when a gas leak was located in his neighborhood.
He disagrees with industry insiders when they label the updated ordinance a ban.
“Yes, you can operate within our community but with public health and safety in mind. I think they’re the ones that are using talking points and misinformation and political attacks to call this what it isn’t -- they’re saying this is a ban,” says Gurrola.
Earlier this month, the Arvin City Council held its first public hearing with a preliminary vote on an updated oil and gas ordinance with 70-percent of the community supporting stricter regulations against the oil and gas industry within city limits.
“There were quite a few members of the community there and they spoke on both sides of the issue and the industry representatives there all objected to the ordinance as it was exempting itself from CEQA and not doing environmental review,” says Gurrola.
Currently, there are 10 to 12 active oil wells operating in the City of Arvin. Under the new ordinance -- which will take effect 30 to 60 days following the final vote -- the city will implement new regulations with a clear focus on the city’s public health concerns.
“What it does -- the most controversial aspect of the ordinance -- is it creates a public health buffer zone or setback so between or within 300 feet of sensitive uses, there can’t be any oil or gas operations and also within 50 t0 100 feet within streets can’t occur any gas operations. From 300 to 600 feet any oil and gas development there will trigger additional rules in respect to noise, any nuisances because it’s close to sensitive areas,” says Gurrola.