California's Kern County Weighs Proposal to Approve Thousands of New Oil Wells

The oil-rich county hopes to boost its economy with a revised plan for new drilling after a state court struck down a 2015 ordinance.

2 minute read

March 14, 2021, 9:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Lakeview Gusher, Kern County, 1910

Kern County's 1910 Lakeview Gusher remains the largest oil eruption in U.S. history. | Unknown author / Lakeview Gusher, Kern County, 1910

Kern County, the center of California's oil industry, is poised to approve a "revised ordinance supported by the influential petroleum industry that creates a blanket environmental impact report to approve as many as 2,700 new wells a year." The 87 revisions were necessary "after a state appeals court ruled last year that a 2015 ordinance violated the California Environmental Quality Act by not fully evaluating or disclosing environmental damage that would occur from drilling," reports Brian Melley in the Los Angeles Times. "New drilling permits were not allowed while the county returned to the drawing board."

The new plan includes "creating larger buffers between homes and wells, muffling noise during drilling and putting a stricter limit on the number of new wells." County officials claim that the limits simply signify a "worst case scenario," as "actual permit numbers in recent years were below the cap." Supporters argue that new wells would "support high-paying jobs and produce oil under some of the most stringent environmental laws, instead of relying on dirtier imports."

Environmental groups expressed concern about the impact new drilling would have on the "notoriously bad air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley." Farmer Keith Gardiner, who opposes the plan, claims it "still falls short of providing protection for valuable agricultural land."

Opponents also disagree with using blanket EIRs to approve multiple wells, saying that "a one-size-fits-all approach didn’t address different factors that varied by location, such as habitat or proximity to neighborhoods." If the revised ordinance passes, groups including the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment plan to return to court.

Sunday, March 7, 2021 in Los Angeles Times

Aerial view of Oceanwide Plaza skyscrapers covered with graffiti tags.

LA’s Abandoned Towers Loom as a “$1.2 Billion Ruin of Global Capital”

Oceanwide Plaza, shuttered mid-construction after its developer filed for bankruptcy, has stood vacant on prime Los Angeles real estate since 2019.

May 21, 2024 - The Architect's Newspaper

Entrance to a drive-through car wash at night with green 'Enter' sign.

Ohio Towns Move to Ban New Car Washes

City officials in northeast Ohio are putting limits on how many car wash facilities can open in their towns.

May 16, 2024 - News 5 Cleveland

Rail tracks on the left, rustic log-built train station painted reddish brown with a green metal roof and concrete platform on the right, evergreen forest and bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds in the background.

More Passenger Rail Coming to Montana

Planning is underway to restore a 45-year-defunct regional passenger rail line connecting southern Montana to Billings and Amtrak’s east-west Empire Builder line from Seattle to Chicago.

May 14, 2024 - 8KPAX

Glass dome at front of modern San Jose City Hall building in San Jose, California.

San Jose Tests AI Translation Tool to Improve Access to Public Meetings

More than half of the city’s population speaks a language other than English at home, making translation services a key pillar of accessibility.

May 22 - GovTech

Empty subdivision lots with new roads and sidewalks complete and line of evergreen forest in the immediate background under a bright blue sky with fluffy white clouds..

Spokane Imposes Temporary Ban on New Subdivision Housing Due to Wildfire Risk

Citing inadequate fire protection and public safety resources, the Spokane City Council has temporarily halted subdivision development in the wildland-urban interface of Latah Valley.

May 22 - NonStop Local

White minibus with yellow "On-Demand" logo parked in an asphalt lot with grass field and dry fall trees in background in Edmonton, Canada.

Is Microtransit a Threat to ‘Real Transit’?

A new report warns that microtransit is nothing more than a taxpayer funded Uber with potentially dangerous consequences for existing traditional transit services.

May 22 - Streets Blog

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.