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Kern County oil and gas permits remain on hold following a split court ruling

Posted: 7:01 PM, Jun 09, 2022
Updated: 2022-06-09 22:36:50-04
Oil Wells, Oil Pumps

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — Environmentalists have been pushing for oil and gas permit accountability in Kern County and a recent ruling will implement new guidelines until a decision is finally made.

The county's original environmental assessment in 2015 was approved but complaints and lawsuits filed on appeal caused the courts to order the county to stop issuing permits until it addressed concerns. In 2021, the county approved the modified permit but seven months later, a judge ordered the county to halt the issuance of new oil and gas permits again until the court could determine if the county’s ordinance met the California Environmental Quality Act guidelines.

While environmentalists did win on some points, the new decision ruled in favor of the county. 23ABC reached out to the county for comment but says it cannot comment on litigation.

This new decision by the Kern County Superior Court focuses on three major criteria: land, air quality, and water supply imposed in the California Environmental Quality Act.

Attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity Hollin Kretzmann says the organization had its concerns.

"Kern County for the longest time has allowed rampant oil and gas production to happen across the county, close to neighborhoods, close to wildlife habitats. It pollutes the air. It damages the climate and it puts pollution on some of California's most vulnerable communities and these communities have suffered for decades from oil and gas pollution.”

"Because oil and gas activity can cause a number of environmental harms and harms to public health, we brought a case that said the county didn’t do enough to disclose and analyze the effects of air pollution, of water supply, usage, affects to public health, affects to wildlife and the court found that the environmental review was deficient in a number of ways,” continued Kretzmann.

According to court documents, the county’s 2021 oil and gas ordinance violated the state’s environmental protection law by failing to address environmental harms.

Vaquero Energy, et. al., (Petitioners) v. County of Kern, et al., (Respondents), California Independent Pet...

According to the judge, Kern County does not have to require farmland conservation easements to make up for the potential loss of 289 acres annually of agricultural land. When it comes to water supply impacts, the judge ruled the oil industry can use domestic quality water but needs to do a better job at how it is going to impact marginalized communities.

In regards to air pollution, the court ruled the county committed a prejudicial error by merging two different air particles as one which the court says does not meet the agreement between the county and air district measures to address this air quality impact.

While environmental groups say they didn’t get everything they wanted for now they are satisfied that the county cannot issue new oil and gas permits.

“This is a huge victory for frontline communities. Communities that have suffered from pollution for decades and it showed that the county can’t get around the law," says Kretzmann. "The laws is there to protect public participation. There to protect our health and environment and you can’t try to fast track thousands of oil and gas projects without these requirements.”

One last thing that the county had a favored ruling in was its multi-well health risk assessment which the judge ruled was legally adequate. A case management conference is expected on July 14th unless the petitioners agree on the new language beforehand.

You can download a full version of the California Environment Quality Act guidelines.