Bakersfield · Business

Could Kern Co. courtroom offer pathway out of sky-high gas prices?

In the face of soaring gas prices and a years-long Sacramento-driven attempt to shutter oil permitting, could local officials hit the jackpot to get energy production back up and running?

If things go accordingly in a Kern County courtroom next month, that’s certainly the hope.

Per the Bakersfield Californian:

…[N]othing is likely to have a bigger impact on the pace of local drilling activity than a long-running legal battle set to resume next month in Kern County Superior Court.

A trial set for April 28 will determine whether changes county government made last year were enough to fix problems a judge identified two years ago in the vast environmental review undergirding Kern’s streamlined oil and gas permitting system.

At the center of the legal battle is a permitting process developed seven years ago by Kern County to help offset responsibility for oil drilling permits.

County leaders forced the oil industry to finance and indemnify the county for its efforts, as whatever system devised would come under heavy legal attack by environmental interest groups.

Seven years later, an April trial date is likely to make good on those promises.

For industry players, the Californian’s John Cox notes, the stakes couldn’t be higher:

Last month, for instance, senior executives at Kern producer California Resources Corp. emphasized in an earnings call with stock analysts that they were hopeful county government would prevail in court so the company would be able to secure more permits to ramp up drilling this year.

Two years ago, a California appellate court ruled that Kern County had not engaged in sufficient environmental review to mitigate for impacts of localized energy production.

A follow-up environmental review period rendered a new edition of the 2015 aimed at repairing the original’s shortcomings. From there, permits began to flow again.

Last October, a Kern County judge rejected the issuance of six months worth of permits citing the lack of judicial review of the new ordinance to ensure all deficiencies related to environmental review were resolved.

The status of those permits are pending the April trial.

Reid Stone is a contributing reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun.