Bakersfield · Business

Kern Co. launches suit against Newsom over oil production ban

Kern County sued Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday in an effort to stop him from continuing a de-facto ban on oil well stimulation treatments including the controversial technique known as fracking.

Arriving one day ahead of the governor’s recall election and on the heels of the Newsom administration’s recent denial of fracking permits to Bakersfield-based oil producer Aera Energy LLC, the petition for a writ of mandate filed in Kern County Superior Court was authorized Aug. 10 by a 4-1, closed session vote of the Board of Supervisors.

The 33-page lawsuit escalates Kern’s claim that Newsom’s moves against the oil industry effectively deny good-paying jobs and property tax revenue to the state’s top-oil producing county.

A news release from the legal firm hired to carry out the county’s suit, Holland & Knight LLP, called Newsom’s efforts to curtail in-state oil production “an unprecedented attack on (Kern) residents” that violates California’s constitution.

Last fall, under pressure from climate-change and environmental-justice activists, Newsom called on the state Legislature to give him a bill that would ban fracking by Jan. 1, 2024.

But the bill that came forward went well beyond that request and ended up dying in committee. The governor then announced the start of an administrative effort that would halt the issuance of fracking permits by the same deadline.

While progress on that effort continues, the head of California’s top oil regulatory agency recently denied two batches of fracking applications by Aera, which appealed the decision and was turned down.

The permit denials by California’s Geologic Energy Management Division were different from previous rejections. Instead of pointing to technical problems, they cited the agency chief’s discretionary authority “to prevent, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property and natural resources” and to “protect public health and safety and environmental quality, including [the] reduction and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the development of hydrocarbon … resources.”

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Staff reports from The San Joaquin Valley Sun staff.