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Enviros Sue Kern County, CA, Over Oil, Gas Permitting Ordinance

Five environmental and community organizations on Thursday asked a local state court to set aside a Kern County, CA, ordinance passed last month to fast-track oil/natural gas permits, alleging that it violates state laws related to environmental protection, planning and zoning.

The complaint, filed in Superior Court in Kern Country by Earthjustice, the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment contends that the five elected county supervisors in oil/gas-rich Kern County established a 20-year path for oil/gas permits to be fast-tracked and bypass environmental review.

At issue is a Nov. 9 action to amend the county's zoning ordinance that established a new oil/gas permitting process that the plaintiffs told the court was "proposed and paid for by the oil industry...authorizing the development of up to 3,647 new oil/gas wells and extensive associated construction and operation activities each year for 20 to 25 more years without any further site-specific assessment of those activities' health and other environmental impacts."

From the county and industry's viewpoint, the local action, including a project level environmental review and petroleum ordinance, creates major changes in how oil companies do business in a major oil producing area. They say it will add transparency and additional environmental safeguards.

The groups allege that the oil industry pushed through the zoning amendment to cut off the possibility of local protests against oil/gas extraction activity in the county, which is the state's major source of oil/gas production.

"It's no secret that Kern County and Big Oil have been friendly for awhile," said NRDC staff attorney Giulia Good Stefani. "The county went too far when it passed an ordinance sponsored by the oil industry." The lawsuit seeks to have the ordinance nullified.

The California Independent Petroleum Association (CIPA) told NGI's Shale Daily that contrary to the groups' contention, the process leading up to the county ordinance amendments involved "one of the state's most thorough and comprehensive environmental reviews of oil operations." A CIPA spokesperson called the legal action "disingenuous" to oppose an environmental impact report when ordinance covers 88 new environmental mitigations for the oil/gas industry to meet.

"The activist groups don't believe in responsible oil production since their ultimate goal is to stop all oil production, which would hurt the economy and force the state to rely more on imported oil produced with weaker environmental protections," the CIPA spokesperson said.

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