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

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