After a full day of listening to public comments, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved an ordinance that revives an oil drilling permitting system first established in 2015.
The 2015 plan was struck down last year when a state appeals court ruled that the ordinance violated the California Environmental Quality Act, which halted new drilling permits issued by the county.
However, the board reapproved the plan on Monday with revisions, reopening the county’s over-the-counter approach to the permitting process.
The state was the sole entity responsible for issuing new permits for the past year.
The original ordinance would have allowed up to 72,000 new wells through 2035, but the revised plan brought that number down to 2,697 annually, which totals about 43,000 over the life of the plan.
At the center of the proposal is the potential large increase in tax revenue through the permits levied on oil firms.
Before the ordinance was approved, the county was facing a significant decline in property tax revenue. Kern County Assessor Jon Lifquist said the county was looking at a 30 percent decrease in tax revenue, which translates to a $3 billion decline.
“Less revenue means less revenue to all county services: sheriff, DA, libraries, every service,” Lifquist said.
The unanimous vote from Supervisors, while largely expected, underscored the key role oil plays in the Golden Empire.
“I think the bottom line is Kern County runs on oil and we’re the best at what we do here, and I think this is a really valuable asset that Kern County has,” said Supervisor Phillip Peters said.
Following multiple hours of live public comment in the morning, the board listened to recorded voicemails well into the evening from people, the mass majority of who flooded the lines in opposition of the project.
During debate on the ordinance, Supervisor Leticia Perez pushed back on the flood of opposition being raised during the meeting, citing a number of out-of-area callers.
“I think tonight is a night to celebrate,” she said. “I enthusiastically and proudly support this recommendation.”
Various business groups and oil companies – such as local oil giant Aera Energy – voiced their support during the public comment. But many individuals, including people from Southern California and the Bay Area, called in to speak about their concerns regarding the impacts that more oil drilling will have on the environment.
The vote came after the county planning commission met last month and voted to recommend to the Board of Supervisors that the proposal be approved.
Lorelei Oviatt, the county Planning Director, said during Monday’s meeting that the revised plan creates larger buffers between homes and oil wells and muffles drilling noise, as well as the total decrease in the number of wells allowed through 2035.