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Industry leaders sound off on the future of oil and gas in Kern County

Posted at 6:27 PM, Nov 13, 2019
and last updated 2019-11-13 22:29:38-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — It's an industry that, according to the Kern Economic Development Corporation, employs 15,000 people, and drives about 70 percent of Kern County's economic activity, oil and gas.

Recent reports on climate change have left some questioning the role that it will play in California's future. But officials assure it's not going anywhere.

"I think when you talk about the future of oil and gas production in California you have to talk about the challenges we face, which, there's a growing list of those," said Councilmember Willie Rivera, the Director of Regulatory Affairs for California Independent Petroleum Association.

That list, growing because of reports saying that burning fossil fuels is the dominant source of emissions that cause climate change. Democratic front runners like Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders have called for radical shifts away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy.

California Governor Gavin Newsom signed six bills in October to move California away from it as well, including one that will block state lands from being used for new federal oil extraction.

"I think the biggest challenge for oil and gas is really this idea that California can exist without it," Rivera said.

Rivera moderated a panel at Wednesday's annual Kern County Energy Summit, bringing some industry leaders to discuss oil's future in Kern.

"We know there's a role, it's just communicating that in an effective way," said Trem Smith, CEO of the Bakersfield-based Berry Petroleum Company.

In Kern County, 70 percent of the economy is driven by oil prices, and oil accounts for 15,000 jobs, but those on the panel said they're not worried about oil's future.

"We are fortunate, I mean California is blessed with an abundance of resources," said Shawn Kerns, the Executive VP of Operations and Engineering for California Resources Corporation, the largest oil company in the state.

Kerns says the future will likely see his industry evolve toward using oil, along with newer, greener technologies like wind and solar.

"I think you need a combination of everything, you need scale. So, you know, something that can provide the immense amount of energy that Californians need," Kerns said.

Kern County is currently the leading energy provider in California, accounting for about 70 percent of the oil and gas production in the state.