A series of hearings began today in Kern County in a lawsuit over an ordinance that could allow up to 70,000 new oil and gas wells there over the next two decades.
All those wells could create 78 million pounds of air pollution a year says Catherine Garoupa White with Californians Against Fracking. The court hearings come two years after the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved the permitting of oil and gas development without further environmental review past 2035. Garoupa White says the environmental impact report they approved is flawed and wells are already being drilled.
"It basically says oil industry you now have a free pass not only to expand your operations,but to use well stimulation techniques like hydraulic fracturing, which will just make our local pollution problems worse," says Garoupa White.
She says the blanket approach allows oil companies to avoid additional reviews through agencies like the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. She also says the county’s review didn’t include Spanish speaking residents.
“This ordinance essentially puts aside the protections provided in the California Environmental Quality Act for the next 20 plus years on behalf of the oil and gas industry,” says Gustavo Aguirre Jr., Kern County Project Coordinator with the Central California Environmental Justice Network in a press release. “How do food vendors in Kern County regularly have to undergo health inspections, while the oil industry gets the green light to expand without any further review of their impacts to public health and the environment?”
Multiple Kern County residents spoke out at the hearing. Anabel Martinez from Shafter says oil production "has polluted our air, water, environment and our food, which gets exported across the country. Now the oil industry is asking for the legal right to build more wells, extract oil faster and without having to submit the most basic environmental and health testing. We are demanding that today Kern County stand on the side of its people."
Still Tracy Leach, Executive Director of Kern Citizens for Energy, applauds the ordinance saying “the science and comprehensive research that went into this EIR ensures the industry can continue drilling and producing in Kern County."
The Western States Petroleum Association denied comment until after a case is complete. Additional court hearings in the case will be held throughout the summer.