Lawsuit Demands Environmental Review for Kern County Oil Drilling Permits

Environmental groups sue California agency for failing to protect public health, water supply and air quality


Betsy Lopez-Wagner, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2159


Tom Frantz, Association of Irritated Residents, (661) 910-7734


Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity, (951) 961-7972


Gordon Nipp, Sierra Club: Kern-Kaweah Chapter, (661) 872-2432

Environmental groups and local residents sued California oil regulators today for approving a massive number of new oil drilling permits in Kern County without analyzing the risks to air, water and public health, as required by law.

The Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) has issued at least 214 permits since July 2014 to Aera Energy to drill new oil and gas wells in the South Belridge Oil Field in Kern County without the environmental review required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Fracking techniques will be used on a majority of these wells. DOGGR regularly fails to conduct legally required reviews for oil and gas drilling projects in Kern County, the lawsuit explains.

Today’s suit was filed by Earthjustice, on behalf of the Association of Irritated Residents, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.

“The California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is turning a blind eye to the environmental risks of oil drilling and fracking,” said Earthjustice Attorney Will Rostov. “DOGGR should not be allowed to continue rubber-stamping oil drilling activities without any environmental review, and it needs to live up to its responsibilities to protect the public and inform them about the impacts of oil drilling.” 

Aera Energy intends to frack at least 144 of the newly permitted wells, which requires tapping already strained water resources. Steam injection and water flooding techniques may also be used on other newly permitted wells. With water supplies already depleted by the ongoing drought, the lawsuit notes that DOGGR erred by not studying whether the local water supply could sustainably provide water for well drilling and water-intensive extraction practices like fracking and steam injection.

The coalition seeks to stop drilling in the illegally permitted wells until DOGGR analyzes the project’s threats to water supplies and the risks associated with the release of harmful air pollutants, greenhouse gases and toxic chemicals into the environment.

“Oil drilling and fracking release harmful air pollutants and greenhouse gases, which threaten the well-being of those living around the oil fields. DOGGR must consider these environmental and health effects before allowing drilling to go forward,” said Tom Frantz, president of the Association of Irritated Residents.

"Oil production in Kern County uses and contaminates billions of gallons of fresh water annually. The public needs to know about this impact when drilling permits are issued," said Gordon Nipp, president of the Sierra Club’s Kern-Kaweah chapter.

“State oil regulators broke the law by failing to investigate the risks of all this new oil drilling,” said Kassie Siegel of the Center for Biological Diversity. “We have a right to know how drilling and fracking threaten the air we breathe and the water we drink. Oil officials must evaluate the risks and inform the public of all the harms before approving more oil development.”

Read the complaint.

A sign hangs by an oil field in California, warning of hazardous fumes.
A sign hangs by an oil field in California, warning of hazardous fumes. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

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