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Kern County Clean-Air Advocates Plead for State Intervention

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Kern County produces about 70% of California's oil and more than 90% of its natural gas. However, 20% of county residents live at or below the federal poverty line. (Zhengzaishuru/iStockphoto)
Kern County produces about 70% of California's oil and more than 90% of its natural gas. However, 20% of county residents live at or below the federal poverty line. (Zhengzaishuru/iStockphoto)
 By Suzanne Potter - Producer, Contact
March 23, 2021

KERN COUNTY, Calif. -- Groups fighting for clean air and against climate change are calling for the State of California to step in after the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a plan to fast-track more than 40,000 new oil and gas wells.

Supporters of the plan say it will create jobs and bring in much-needed tax revenue.

Bryan Osorio, mayor of the City of Delano, opposes the plan and urged lawmakers to pass Senate Bill 467, which would halt new permits for fracking starting next year, and ban it altogether as of 2027.

"Drilling releases a toxic soup of chemicals and particulates, which gets into our lungs and stays there," Osorio asserted. "Adding more oil drilling pollution to existing high levels of pollution in Kern County will just make matters worse."

Senate Bill 467 is being considered in two legislative committees in April.

Last year, the California Geologic Energy Management Division, or CalGEM, lifted a fracking ban and approved more permits.

But the agency is also supposed to unveil a plan next month to protect people living near oil and gas sites.

Kern County has some of the dirtiest air in the country. A UCLA survey from 2018 found almost one-third of kids under age 17 in the county are diagnosed with asthma.

Katie Valenzuela, a Sacramento City Council member who grew up battling asthma in Oildale, said the county has chosen oil profits over its residents' health, particularly the lower-income Latino communities near the wells.

"I don't believe the Kern County Board of Supervisors, given the action and discussion two weeks ago, is ever going to change course unless they get voted out, or unless the state comes in and intervenes," Valenzuela contended.

Both Valenzuela and Osorio belong to the group Elected Officials to Protect America. One of its goals is fighting climate change.

The group wants Cal-GEM to require buffer zones of 2,500 feet between the oil and gas sites and schools, homes and hospitals.

Meanwhile, environmental groups are challenging the county ordinance in court.

Disclosure: Elected Officials to Protect America contributes to our fund for reporting on Climate Change/Air Quality, Energy Policy, and Public Lands/Wilderness. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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