NEW STUDY: Oil companies need to be more transparent about emissions, could impact health

Posted at 6:39 PM, Mar 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-15 21:50:25-04

Kern County was built on oil.

Oil fields throughout the county have been the backbone as one of the biggest industries to help fuel the economy, but while oil has been viewed as the lifeblood of the county, some believe not enough is really known about its impacts.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace released studies on Wednesday that paint a picture of the unknown when it comes to oil and the oil industry.

The study, called “Need to Know: The Case for Oil Transparency in California” details information provided by the oil industry, including information on greenhouse gas emissions.

 Deborah Gordon, author of the study, spoke to 23ABC about the investigating that was done by Carnegie into oil and the oil industry.

 Gordon said California has long been ahead of the curve when it comes to oil policy and regulations. But, there’s still plenty that needs to be known.

 “On the one hand there's an awareness that there are concerns out there and issues,” Gordon said. “On the other hand, (oil companies) managing their own and really being transparent about what this involves is lacking,” said Gordon.

 That’s where the study comes into play.

Gordon said initially, when beginning the process of the study only five percent of information on oil was readily available to the public.

Basically, there’s a world of unknown when it comes to oil.

She said more research was conducted and those looking into oil were able to gain about 25 percent of information on oil.

That information that’s made public is what policies are based on; a quarter of the information.

So, the study calls for more transparency.

“I can assure you there’s no place in the world that’s more transparent,” said Kara Siepmann with Western State Petroleum Association who disagrees with the study.

Siepmann said oil companies are regulated on the federal, state and sometimes local level.

 "These are opinion pieces and these completely ignore California's global leadership in green house gas emission and in air standards,” said Siepmann.

Gordon agrees the oil industry has always been on board to do what is required of them by the law.

“The oil industry has been very keen on understanding where they fit in, where their oils, where their practices fit in. And they realize they're in a very competitive world, globally,” Gordon said. “The better they can be and the better they can understand their own oil and the more they understand their challenges, the better position they're in.”

California has continued to push for expanded policies.

According to the study, in 2016, Representative Jared Huffman introduced the Know Your Oil Act in Congress. It would require companies to “disclose field-level oil data”.

That bill has not yet been passed.

So, what does this mean for Kern County?

Maps provided in the study show multiple oil fields that are considered “High Risk: Critical Climate Oils”.


Oil fields along the Kern River near the Panorama Bluffs, near Taft and near Lost Hills fall into the “High Risk” category.

One of the types of oil highlighted in the study, Midway Sunset oil, is thick with the consistency of peanut butter, according to Gordon.

Midway Sunset is one of the oils that poses a greater risk, because of the different methods of extraction that are used to access the oil.

Midway Sunset is also one of the most prevalent in Kern County.

Midway Sunset’s oil field runs in the southwest end of Kern County in the Taft area.

Gordon says many question still need to be asked about it.

“I think what the public would want to know is exactly what is under the ground, how is it changing and what are the new techniques coming to the fore to get it out of the ground because those new opportunities will bring new challenges,” she said. “And the public should know what those are.”

For local residents like Brittney Hernandez, who suffers from allergies and asthma, she said it's definitely a concern of hers. For now though, she's interested in reading more about the study to determine what's best for her. 

"Depending on the air quality and what' setting out there, it could be not the greatest choice for a workout for people like me especially when planet fitness is right down the road," said Hernandez.