The Arvin City Council could approve new regulations and restrictions on oil and gas production in town at its Tuesday meeting.
The City of Arvin is looking to revamp its oil and gas codes for the first time since the 1960s. An ordinance up for action at the council meeting would impose more regulations on operations that are close to residential areas and “sensitive use” areas such as schools or hospitals.
Any operations near those areas would need to reduce the environmental impact to the community through such measures as putting up a noise barrier and 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.
“This ordinance is about protecting the public health and safety of our residents,” Mayor Jose Gurrola said.
City Manager Alfonso Noyola said the ordinance is sorely needed, given that the city’s municipal codes relating to oil and gas production have not been changed since the 1960s. He said there have been many changes in how oil and gas are produced since then due to advances in science and technology and other factors.
“This ordinance is merely to update the existing ordinance that was drafted. It brings it up to date and ensures that we adopt modern-day practices,” he said.
Some local energy groups, however, feel the ordinance is unnecessary and possibly harmful to Arvin’s economy.
“It is very disheartening to see a community like Arvin ... attempting to ban economic activity and good-paying jobs in their city, harming the very residents that they should be helping," said Tracy Leach, executive director of Kern Citizens for Energy. "Hopefully the city leaders will vote to preserve jobs in their community and not subject their residents to years of potentially costly litigation."
Leach said the group — a coalition of business owners, organizations and others that support the oil and gas industry in Kern County — is worried that for the few small, independent oil operators in Arvin, new regulations would be a financial burden.
“This kind of regulation is very expensive and prohibitive to them. It’s not feasible,” she said. “We’re afraid this will put these companies out of business. This is a very onerous, ill-conceived ordinance.”
Leach said she doesn’t understand why the city would want to have this ordinance now, when it’s looking to address a budget deficit of about $1.8 million for the fiscal year.
“This makes no sense to us because the city’s in debt,” she said. “It’s mind-boggling why they’d be wanting to drive out jobs and economic activity. The city should be encouraging job growth.”
Noyola said the new regulations would not affect current operators, and are instead intended for new operators that come to town.
“If you’re currently operating and you have a current permit, we can’t impose additional regulations because they have already been grandfathered in,” he said.
Les Clark, executive vice president for the Independent Oil Producers Agency out of Bakersfield, said he thinks the city’s goal with the ordinance is to bring more money in through fees from conditional use permit applications and other avenues to help with the deficit.
“We already have stringent regulations at the federal, state and county level and the oil industry has done a good job following them,” he said. “We already have control over the industry, so what’s the real basis of this?”
Noyola said the city charges around $30 to process a conditional use permit application, which he said doesn’t cover all of the city’s processing costs. While he said the ordinance, if approved, would raise the price of the fee, the intent is only to charge an amount that would fully cover the city’s costs.
Noyola said he didn’t know what the fee would be increased to if the ordinance passed. The ordinance doesn’t include any specific financial information.
Gurrola said he believes energy groups have gotten the wrong impression about the ordinance.
“I just feel that this is the industry trying to nip things in the bud. They don’t want to allow any kind of regulation that is more restrictive because it’s not to their benefit,” he said. “They’re exaggerating what this is.”
Noyola said that while he understands that the oil industry doesn’t like the idea of additional regulations, the city has to do right by its citizens.
“We have a responsibility to ensure the health, wellness and safety of community,” he said. “We understand the industry is powerful in this county, but we wouldn’t be responsible now if we didn’t impose appropriate regulation and oversight. This ordinance ensures a good balance between the welfare of the community and the industry.”
Clark said he will attend Tuesday's council meeting to express his concerns. Leach said she and other members of Kern Citizens for Energy will be in attendance as well.
“We’re hopeful that the City Council will reject the ordinance,” Leach said.
The meeting starts at 6 p.m. at the City Council chambers, located at 200 Campus Drive.