Kern County directed to repeal the gas and oil ordinance of 2015

Angel Magdaleno, Reporter

After a long fight, farmers of Kern County were able to successfully challenge the gas and oil ordinance of 2015. On Feb. 25 the California Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the farmers to reverse the gas and oil ordinance as well as hold off on any future issuance of permits.

“The California Court of Appeals directed Kern County to rescind its adoption of the gas and oil ordinance of 2015,” according to a source that is very knowledgeable on the case, whose name is not stated on the request of anonymity.

According to the 5th District Court of Appeals’ opinion – which is the reasoning that lead to the court’s decision – K&G Farms v. Kern County, Kern County has 30 days of the appellate court ruling to repeal the gas and oil ordinance that was adopted in 2015.

The county is not able to issue new drilling permits under the court’s ruling. If they do, the permits will not be valid.

“If the county does not comply with the court’s order, the county could be held in contempt of court,” Rachel Hooper, the attorney representing King and Gardiner Farms, said.

The 2015 ordinance would have been responsible for the approval of 72,000 new oil and gas wells. The oil and gas operations would be permitted to drill wells on, primarily, agricultural land. King and Gardiner Farms sued, claiming that the Environmental Impact Report (EIR), that was proposed at the time that the ordinance was adopted, had many California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) violations.

“The trial court found the EIR inadequately analyzed the project’s environmental impacts,” states the Appellate Court’s opinion.

The EIR did not fully disclose the complete impact the wells would have in each of their locations. They generalized most of the wells, to speed the process of getting the ordinance approved while simultaneously saving money in attempting to get a report on every single well.

According to the court’s ruling, the EIR inadequately disclosed the impacts the wells would have on water supply and air pollution in Kern County.

According to an article by BakersfieldNow Rich Venn, director of communications for California Resources Corporation, said in a statement, “Kern County is in the top 5 leading energy producing counties in the U.S. for oil and gas.” Kern County accounts for about 70% of California’s oil production and California is one of the largest producers of oil in the US.

Many people argued that the hold on the oil wells won’t help the planet, but make it worse.

“The appellate court’s decision disregarding the thoughtful and detailed holding of the trial court is a major step backward for environmental protection, energy security, and the well-being of Kern County. Massive mitigation measures the industry took under the ordinance change will now be put on hold.  Nobody wins under that scenario,” said Rock Zierman, California Independent Petroleum Association’s CEO.

“[Gardiner Farms] does not wish to stop oil and gas operations in Kern County. Instead, [they] are trying to ensure, when the county approves a vast project to streamline drilling permits, it safeguards public health and protects other resources like agricultural land,” Hooper said.

“Yes, this is a huge win,” Hooper added, “as we obtained the exact relief we requested from the court.”

She said that their work is not done, “When the County revises its EIR analysis, we have the right to review its work, and if the county again does not comply with the CEQA, can go back to court.”

A new EIR will be written over the next several months to move the project forward with the oil drilling in Kern County.