The history of oil runs deep in Kern County supporting jobs and funding services like schools and county departments.
23ABC once again takes an in-depth look at the future of our local oil industry in light of the approval this week of a controversial proposal slated to bring thousands of new oil wells to Kern County over the next two decades. It has been one of the most controversial projects Kern County has seen in years, which has garnered both support and opposition from people all over the state.
23ABC breaks down what it means for you and your family.
So where will the money go? And how could this project impact your life?
The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance to bring thousands of new oil wells to the county. One supervisor breaks down why he voted yes.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a new oil well ordinance, bringing thousands of new wells to the county.
Kern County Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner said he approved the project in order to keep oil production local.
“We can’t continue to keep bringing in oil from foreign countries when we can produce it here and produce tax dollars and jobs,” Scrivner said.
Opponents to the new ordinance argue that the additional wells will increase pollution and fossil fuels in the area, damaging the environment and public health. But Scrivner disagrees. He believes the more harmful emissions come from oil ports that are “overloaded” with Diesel engine tankers.
“Coming in with their Diesel engines that are nowhere near as clean as a Diesel truck that running up and down the 99 or I-5,” he said.
According to Scrivner, the new ordinance will bring a significant amount of revenue to Kern County’s public safety industries and education.
In Scrivner’s district, oil and renewable energy are big sectors. With the lack of permits being approved, Scrivner said these industries have taken a hit within his district.
“If Californians continue to use oil, if the demand is going up not down, why would you not produce it at home where it’s the safest and cleanest?” Scrivner asked.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy has been a big proponent for the oil industry in Kern County. He says the current administration's plan for clean energy is taking money and jobs away from the American people.
Congressman and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has said that following President Joe Biden's plan for clean energy will cause Americans to lose jobs and have to rely on other countries for oil, something that he does not agree with.
“If you’re not putting it in a pipeline, then you are moving it on a ship or a train, which has more capability of creating a spill,” he said.
McCarthy says that by taking oil drilling away from local industries and opting for foreign production, America brings in oil which is 42% dirtier.
In January, President Biden announced a wide-ranging moratorium on new oil and gas leasing on U.S. lands.
To reach Biden’s 100% renewable energy goal will require a massive buildout of grid infrastructure to get energy from the windy plains or offshore wind farms over long distances to cities where electricity is needed. About a sixth of today’s U.S. electricity generation is from renewable sources, the U.S. Energy Information Administration has said.
“71% of all the oil produced in California is in Kern County,” McCarthy said. “Those are jobs, it’s more than $9 billion in value.”
McCarthy said instead of restricting oil drilling on U.S. lands, America should invest in technology to improve the environmental impacts of drilling. He said if the U.S. purchases foreign oil, it only supports industries with less environmental restrictions.
“Natural gas is so important, it helps us with the air quality,” he said. “China produces two times the emissions than we do in America, and they have a 30% smaller GDP than we do.”
Kern County's economy is deeply rooted in the oil industry, but what does that mean for you? Here's a breakdown of the impact oil and drilling have on the county's revenue.
Kern County’s economy relies heavily on revenue and oil and gas companies. The revenue generated by the industry goes towards benefitting sectors such as education and public safety.
Last year, the 5th District Court of Appeals set aside a 2015 oil and gas permitting ordinance that streamlines the permitting process.
Kern County’s Assessor-Recorder Jon Lifquist says that access to oil permits plays a large role in revenue and property taxes. As Assessor-Recorder, Lifquist is in charge of assessing all property within county limits and enforcing the rules and regulations imposed by property tax laws.
During the Kern County Board of Supervisors special meeting, where supervisors approved a new oil wells ordinance, Lifquist said the county is looking at a $3 billion decline in oil and gas revenues.
Lifquist clarified with 23ABC that, in fact, that number is higher. He said it’s actually closer to about $4.7 billion.
“If property values are declining then we’ll have to reduce them,” Lifquist said. “It will potentially impact all county services. It will impact the budget of the sheriff, the DA, the libraries.”
Lifquist said the revenue the new wells could generate is difficult to estimate. He explained that without permitting, oil fields have no value.
“The nature of oil and gas is that the production is reliant on new construction, new wells,” he said.
After seven hours of public comment, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the new oil ordinance. Now opponents of the ordinance are speaking out.
Environmental groups and some Kern County residents are voicing their opposition to the approval of new oil wells in Kern County.
“Our city, we’re in a bowl. Therefore the contamination that we have, including air pollution stays here,” said Arvin resident Gabriela Ojeda.
Ojeda says that she has seen the negative impacts of the oil industry on herself and her family. Ojeda says she has had health issues which she attributes to the poor air quality.
“I can’t directly associate when I go to the doctor, some of the health effects that I have,” Ojeda said. “But there are studies that exist that say that the pollution from oil and gas can be attributed to some symptoms I’ve had in the past.”
Elizabeth Perez of the Central California Environmental Justice Network said they are disappointed to see the supervisors approve the new oil ordinance.
Perez said her organization works directly with rural communities like Arvin, Lost Hills, and Shafter. She said they’ve heard from residents of these areas about the negative impacts of drilling and fracking.
While they don’t plan to directly appeal the new ordinance, CCEJN is working to help pass Senate Bill 467, which creates financial buffers for oil drilling. Entitle the "End Fracking & Harmful Drilling Act”, S.B. 467 will also prohibit all new or renewed permits for oil and gas extraction within 2,500 feet of any homes, schools, healthcare facilities or long-term care institutions such as dormitories or prisons.
On Thursday, a group of community and environmental groups announced a lawsuit against the county to repeal the new oil ordinance.
Petitioners argue that adding the news wells will trigger more droughts and heatwaves, as well as increase pollution fossil fuel emissions throughout Kern County.
Kern Citizen’s for Energy, one of the most outspoken supporters of the new ordinance, said the lawsuit was “unfortunate”.
According to the group, Kern’s oil industry is responsible for 25,000 jobs and should continue to lead the way in oil and gas, just as we lead the way in wind and solar.
COVID-19 has hit every sector hard. For those in the oil industry impacted by the pandemic, bouncing back can be especially difficult. One local expert offers tips on how oil workers can explore new opportunities.
Another issue hitting the oil industry now is the COVID-19 pandemic. Like so many other industries, oil workers have faced a difficult time with layoffs due to the pandemic.
Teresa Hitchcock with Kern County's Workforce and Development said oil is picking up a little bit now which is helping with employment in the sector. She said, however, where the industry is seeing steady growth is in the renewable energy sector.
“The good news is that the industry seems to be picking up a little bit right now,” Hitchcock said. “So we are seeing some movement as far as job recruitments for that industry.”
Hitchcock said oil workers who find themselves laid off shouldn’t limit themselves to staying in the oil industry. She said when looking for a new job, oil workers bring a set of skills that can easily transfer to other well-paying sectors such as construction or industrial welding and automation.
In the renewable energy market, Hitchcock said the industry is growing, but it generally does not pay as much as the oil industry.
“There’s just not as many. Oil has about 14,000 jobs in the local economy. The renewable industry is about 600 jobs in the local economy,” she said.
According to the Kern Workforce Development, there are more than 200 training programs available for free to those interested.