Stricter regulations on oil and gas operations in Arvin got a little closer to becoming a reality on Tuesday.
The Arvin Planning Commission approved an ordinance that makes amendments to the city’s oil and gas codes that would prevent new operations near residential areas and sensitive areas including schools and hospitals. It also implements more stringent requirements when it comes to mitigating environmental impacts.
The resolution will now go to the City Council for final approval.
Representatives of the local oil industry and community members packed the council chambers to protest the ordinance, saying that the changes hurt the industry in Kern County, that it is effectively a ban on oil production in the city and that operators are regulated enough as it is.
“California has some of the most comprehensive oil and gas regulations to be found,” said Archie Button, who works for oil operator Compass Global Resources, which does some work in the Arvin area. “I see what’s happening here in the city of Arvin as over-regulation and duplication of effort. I think this overregulation will crimp investment, and I’m worried about jobs starting to go away.”
One of the speakers at the meeting was Bakersfield’s own city councilman Willie Rivera, who spoke in his capacity as the director of regulatory affairs for the California Independent Petroleum Organization. Rivera took a more neutral tone with his comments.
“We don’t believe you have a perfect document in front of you. We would argue that there’s still more work to be done,” he said. “You’ve heard specifically from folks about the need to reduce regulations, reduce the potential for duplication, and I think that still exists in the document you have right now.”
Rivera said he also wanted more specifics regarding how long the city manager has to make a decision on a permit and how long it would take the board to consider a permit. City officials said that while time limits aren’t in the ordinance, the city would follow state regulations when it comes to those issues.
With the ordinance sparking a lot of disagreement among residents and industry representatives, city officials stressed in the meeting that it is not an outright ban but rather a much-needed revamp of codes that haven’t been updated since the 1960s.
The city said it sought to make changes to the codes to reflect a growing population and to make sure oil and gas operations do not negatively affect the health and safety of its residents.
The biggest part of the ordinance is that new oil operations would not be able to locate any closer than 300 feet from residential zones, schools, hospitals and other areas where there are a lot of people.
Facilities that already exist but do not meet the setback requirement will still be able to operate.
Operators will also be required to reduce environmental impacts to the community such as through putting up noise barriers, monitoring odors and waste.
Among other changes, the ordinance would also require new operations to obtain a conditional use permit or development agreement from the city.
The city first brought up the resolution to the Planning Commission and City Council last fall. The council was set to vote on it in November but decided to stop to give members of the oil industry a chance to provide more comment and input. Tuesday’s meeting was part of the second go-round to get the ordinance passed.
While the majority of speakers at Tuesday’s meeting were against the passing the ordinance, there were a few vocal members of the community, one of which spoke directly and passionately to members of the oil and gas industry.
Arvin resident Sal Partida said he feels that oil operations in Arvin has caused worse air for residents and that while members of the industry say they’re employing many Arvin residents, unemployment is still a significant problem for the town.
“The city has the highest unemployment in the nation, the worst air in the nation, and you guys come over here and tell us that you guys are doing a great job for us,” he said. “All you want to do is take the oil from the city of Arvin.”
Partida emphasized his support of the ordinance and said it should make even more stricter changes to the oil and gas codes for the benefit of Arvin residents.
We’re in 2018, and you can’t accept change. Isn’t that a shame,” he said. “I say [these codes have] been called for years to be re-written. I don’t think that Arvin should be taken advantage of by the oil industry anymore.”
With the Planning Commission having approved the ordinance, it is set to go up in front of the City Council in July.