California and most of its cities and political subdivisions are actively trying to reduce the use of fossil fuels to fight climate change by imposing restrictions or taxes on greenhouse gas emissions and by blocking new natural gas hookups and oil and gas productions offshore and on public lands. Kern County, California is bucking this trend. Its five-member Board of Supervisors unanimously adopted an ordinance which would permit new oil and gas wells beginning in April.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports Kern County is the largest oil and gas producing county in California and the seventh largest oil-producing county in the nation, with annual output topping 119 million barrels per year. This represents 71 percent of the state’s entire oil output. Kern County also produced 129 billion cubic feet of natural gas in 2019, amounting to 78 percent of California’s output.
Court Halts Permitting, County Responds
The permitting process came to a halt in 2020 when, in response to a lawsuit, the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Fresno issued an order blocking an effort by the Board of Supervisors to expedite new well permitting by streamlining the permitting process.
Prior to the court’s order, the county permitted and average of 1,900 wells each year with an annual cap of 3,647 new wells
In response to the court’s order the board of supervisors developed new rules establishing a generic, comprehensive, environmental impact assessment. The new rules also establish larger setbacks from homes and inhabited buildings and set stricter noise limits. In addition, the new ordinance caps the number of new wells permitted annually at 2,697. The county will begin issuing new oil and gas drilling permits under the revised ordinance on April 6.
“We will return to court sometime in the future for the review of our compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, but permitting is not affected by that time period,” said Lorelei Oviatt, the director of Kern County’s Planning and Natural Resources Department, according to a story in Natural Gas Intelligence.
‘Future … Shaped by Facts, Not Fears’
This new ordinance puts people back to work and protects the environment, said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, in a statement.
“There is no more important issue than our energy future and balancing the concerns for our environment, equity, and the economy,” said Reheis-Boyd. “Our future must be shaped by facts, not fears.
“And the fact is, there are tens of thousands of highly skilled, dedicated and conscientious scientists, engineers, and passionate problem-solvers across the oil and gas industry in Kern County — each of them with families and children of their own who breathe the same air, drink the same water, and share the same economic future.” Reheis-Boyd said.
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.