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New ordinance being considered could bring more oil wells to Kern, some express concern

“Go outside and take a breath. See how long you can hold that breath until you start to cough, and then ask yourself, was it like this 10 years ago, was it like this five years ago?”
Posted at 4:37 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-11 07:35:14-05

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — A new ordinance being considered by the Kern County planning commission could bring more than 65,000 new oil wells to Kern County, but some locals are speaking out against this ordinance due to concerns over the environment.

The oil industry plays a large role here in Kern County, we have about 78,000 oil wells in the community and the county accounts for 80% of California's oil and gas production, but some fear adding more wells could be a negative for the county, starting with making the air quality worse.

“Anyone who lives here has a responsibility and we are asking for you to step up and think about the impacts that these are causing you,” said environmental health expert Rosanna Esparza.

On Wednesday, Kern County leaders and residents hosted a conference over their concerns about a new ordinance that will allow 67,000 new oil wells to be installed over the next two decades.

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That news is raising concern for some like Rosanna Esparza.

“Go outside and take a breath. See how long you can hold that breath until you start to cough, and then ask yourself, was it like this 10 years ago, was it like this five years ago?” said Esparza.

Leaders and residents voiced their concern over respiratory issues and bad air quality, and according to those opposing the ordinance, they have collected 7,000 signatures supporting their stance, which they presented to the planning commission on Wednesday.

“This oil and gas ordinance, if it were to pass, it would just be another obstacle for communities, another obstacle that is going to just ruin their quality of life and worsen the air quality in which they live in,” said Delano Mayor Bryan Osorio.

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But others have voiced their support for the ordinance, the Kern Citizens for Energy group said on Monday those new wells will bring new jobs. Kevin McCarthy, House minority leader also expressed concern Wednesday about the oil industry and how president Joe Biden's push to halt new oil and natural gas leases could impact jobs and livelihoods.

“The time of pandemic where jobs have already been lost, you thought you would take action to help them, not cut them.”

Still, the health impacts, especially for low-income communities, remain a big concern for Bryan Osorio, mayor of Delano. He says from 2015 to 2019, Kern County issued about 18,000 oil and gas permits, around 98% of those permits were in those low-income communities.

“We know that emissions from oil and gas infrastructure contaminate water and soil and the people that are most exposed to this are the low-income communities where they are surrounded by it,” said Osorio.

The discussion over the ordinance has received attention from environmental activists across the country including Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo.

"I'm reaching out to the Kern County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors to reject the ordinance to nearly double the number of oil wells in the Kern communities. I have a personal connection to the Kern River Valley having camped there many many times and jumping into the sierras from there it is a treasure in California and should be treated as such," said Ruffalo.

Ruffalo has championed other environmental causes throughout the years, like the adoption of electric vehicles and stopping the Keystone pipeline.

The Kern County planning commission is scheduled to hear comments regarding the ordinance on Thursday, February 11.