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Coalition Files Lawsuit to Safeguard Kern Communities from Flawed Oil & Gas Drilling Amendment

Groups aim to protect community health and water after officials approve oil industry plan to exempt drilling from environmental review for decades

A fracking site in Kern County.

Brooke Anderson Photography | Provided by The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment
December 10, 2015
Bakersfield, CA —

A broad coalition of community and conservation groups sued Kern County today for passing a new local law intended to bypass environmental review for oil and gas projects. The new county ordinance, sponsored by the oil industry and passed by the Kern County Board of Supervisors last month, purports to allow county officials to fast track permits for oil and gas activities without environmental review or public notice for a minimum of 20 years.

Location map of Kern County, California.
Kern County is the nation’s largest oil-producing county.

Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law firm, filed the lawsuit in the Superior Court of California, County of Kern on behalf of Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in coordination with the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment (CPRE) and the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). The Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment is representing Committee for a Better Arvin, Committee for a Better Shafter and Greenfield Walking Group on the joint lawsuit. 

Kern County is the nation’s largest oil-producing county, encompassing approximately 75 percent of California's oil drilling and 95 percent of the state’s fracking. California is the nation's third largest oil-producing state.

By pushing through the zoning amendment, the oil industry seeks to ensure that local residents have little to no recourse to challenge future oil and gas extraction activities. As climate disruption accelerates and California’s historic drought continues, there is no way of knowing what the region will endure and residents will face over the next two decades without oversight, review, and management of the more than 70,000 new oil and gas wells authorized by the ordinance.

As it stands, Latino communities will continue to suffer the disproportionate impacts of fracking and other oil drilling projects taking place near their homes, schools and public spaces. Not only does that include breathing some of the nation’s dirtiest air, but the potential for contamination of their water supply.

“The Board of Supervisors put oil companies’ interests above my children’s health and the wellbeing of families across our community,” said Rodrigo Romo of Committee for a Better Shafter, which is represented by the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment. “We breathe this air and drink this water every day, but the County did nothing to protect us and other Kern communities from dangerous pollution. Today we challenge their actions to protect ourselves and future generations.”

Nearly half of those living within a mile of a well are already in one of the most polluted communities in the State. Nearly 75 percent of those residents are people of color, according to an NRDC report. The same report concluded that nearly 58 percent of those living within a mile of a well are people of color.

“Kern County cannot turn a blind eye on state-mandated environmental review for 20 years while appeasing the oil industry, all to the detriment of the health and safety of local communities. The law does not allow that,” said Earthjustice Staff Attorney Will Rostov. “Not only is that unprecedented and unlawful, but it’s an abuse of power. This is particularly problematic given the project's disproportionate impact on Kern’s most vulnerable communities.”

"Last month, the Kern County Board of Supervisors chose to put Big Oil's interests ahead of our community. Today, we stand up to them and demand better — better for our families, better for our health, and better for our environment," said Gordon Nipp, Vice-Chair, Sierra Club Kern-Kaweah Chapter.

"Instead of cutting corners for the oil industry and fast-tracking fracking, our local governments should be using their powers to safeguard our air and water with meaningful mitigation and clean alternatives," said NRDC Staff Attorney Giulia Good Stefani.

“With this ordinance, Kern County is actively helping oil companies pollute our air and water and put vulnerable communities at risk for decades,” said Hollin Kretzmann, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “County officials have reached a new low in claiming they can eliminate environmental review for all future oil and gas activity.”

Background: Kern County is the epicenter of California’s oil and gas production, accounting for nearly 75 percent of the state’s approximately 85,000 active and new oil and gas wells. According to the County, the single environmental analysis performed prior to the ordinance’s passage is sufficient to authorize, without any further environmental review, up to 3,647 new oil and gas wells per year for the next 20 or more years. These 72,000 new wells will be drilled in an area that possesses some of the worst air quality in the country.

Read this press release in Spanish.

See complaint, here: http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/files/Kern%20121015%20Endors....

Contacts

Will Rostov, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2000

Sofia Parino, Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, (916) 716-2398

Jonathon Berman, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3033

Kimiko Martinez, Natural Resources Defense Council, (310) 434-2344

Hollin Kretzmann, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7133