Bakersfield · Business

Judge halts Kern Co. oil, gas permitting amid enviro suit targeting revived production

New oil and gas permits in Kern County are off the table for the time being following a decision from the Kern County Superior Court. 

Judge Gregory Pulskamp halted the issuance of new permits until the Court determines that legal issues with a 2015 ordinance from the Kern County Board of Supervisors, which streamlined the permitting process, have been addressed. 

After the 2015 plan was struck down by a state appeals court – which ruled the ordinance violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) – the Board of Supervisors revived the plan in March. 

Environmental groups immediately brought a lawsuit forward against Kern County on the basis that the county reestablished its permitting process without following through with adequately analyzing significant impacts on air quality, water supply, agricultural land conversion and noise that the permits would have. 

Those issues were supposed to be met, per the 2020 appellate ruling, before any new permits could be issued. 

The Court initially agreed with the environmental groups, ordering a halt on all new permits until it can ensure that Kern County is adhering to CEQA requirements. 

The ruling was applauded by environmental advocacy giants, including the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who is a plaintiff along with the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other community groups. 

“The county never had any business issuing permits after the court of appeals clearly instructed them not to,” said senior NRDC attorney Ann Alexander in a statement. “It shouldn’t have taken a judge’s decision to explain to the county that court orders need to be obeyed, and county officials aren’t above the law.” 

Mercedes Macias, a senior organizer for the Sierra Club in Kern County, called the board’s ordinance a “disaster” and celebrated the court’s decision to put a pause in place. 

“Kern County’s plan to fast track tens of thousands of new oil and gas wells would be a disaster for communities that are already overburdened by the worst air pollution in the country,” Macias said in a statement. 

“We’re glad to see the court hold the county accountable for its reckless and illegal issuance of these permits before the court has signed off, and now we urge Gov. Newsom to take action to protect frontline communities by enacting setbacks and halting state-level permitting.” 

The 2015 ordinance had been set to allow for up to 72,000 new wells in Kern County through 2035, but the 2020 ordinance decreased that to total about 43,000 through the same period.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.