A Bakersfield City Council committee directed city staff on Monday to explore joining with Kern Citizens for Energy and considering a resolution supporting changes to the way Kern County does oil business.
The City Council's Legislative and Litigation Committee, which is comprised of three council members, agreed with representatives of the Western States Petroleum Association and Kern Citizens for Energy that Bakersfield should weigh joining the oil industry groups in support of county petroleum production.
Ward 7 Councilman Russell Johnson, a committee member, abstained from considering the item to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
At issue is Kern County's plan to amend its zoning ordinance dealing with oil and gas production, now in the midst of an environmental impact review.
If successful, the amended zoning ordinance would make Kern the primary permitting authority in local oil production.
Currently, the state Department of Conservation's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources has that authority.
"The bottom line is, this is incredibly important for Kern County because not only ... do we have a long history here, but Kern produces the vast majority of California's oil," said Nick Ortiz, WSPA production regions manager.
City Manager Alan Tandy approached with caution.
"And the list of those who may not appreciate the city's support would include?" Tandy asked.
"There's been some report of conflict in the agricultural industry," Ortiz said, also mentioning the possibility of dissent from groups like the Sierra Club. "We've been working very hard to ensure and so has Director Oviatt over at Kern County, to make sure their interests are taken into account in the EIR."
Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt did not respond to a message requesting comment.
Afterward, Ward 2 Councilman Terry Maxwell, the committee chairman, said he wasn't worried about displeasing ag.
"I think it's important that the city of Bakersfield support, basically, the economy that gets us to enjoy what we've got. And I don't want to stand on the sidelines and quote cheer them on," Maxwell said. "I want to get in there and do everything we can to help them play in the game."
Assistant to the City Manager Steve Teglia said committee members will likely be able to review a draft resolution in support at their Sept. 22 meeting.
Teglia said Bakersfield has previously supported statewide coalitions opposing legislation like the oil severance tax.