An environmental review document scheduled for review Friday by Kern's Planning Commission is expected to address ongoing legal challenges to the county's relatively new process for permitting local oil and gas production.
The supplemental environmental impact report concludes that petroleum-related activity has a less than significant impact on range land and grazing land in the county.
"Grazing's very compatible with oil and gas drilling," said Lorelei Oviatt, director of the county's Planning and Natural Resources Department, which prepared the report.
The county undertook the supplemental review after a Kern County Superior Court judge ruled in April that Kern's 2015 overhaul of its ordinance relating to oil and gas permitting was sufficient in all but two ways: It failed to gauge impacts to grazing land and range land, and it had not measured the effects of paving roads as a way of lessening oil activity's environmental footprint.
Oviatt said the county chose to deal with the roads issue by removing paving as an option available to oil companies looking for ways to mitigate the air emissions as estimated by the county. One mitigation option oil drillers will still have is to pay fees based on the depth and location of their wells. A 1,000-foot well would require payment of fees ranging from $8,110 to $13,770; the deeper the well, the higher the fee.
Since December of 2015, she said, such fees have contributed some $43 million toward activities that reduce air pollution, such as switching out diesel engines for electric ones.
If the Planning Commission approves of the changes, county staff will bring the supplemental review before the Board of Supervisors next month for certification. If that happens, the county would present the report to the judge in the case, as well as the appellate court considering challenges to the April ruling.
Environmental activist groups have criticized the earlier environmental documents, and the zoning ordinance itself, as a rubber stamp that fails to take into account conditions specific to drilling site.
A local oil producer has also challenged aspects of the new permitting process as being favorable to farmers at the expense of petroleum companies. Others in the oil industry have complained that the new process, though helpful in terms of providing a clearer path to approval, has greatly increased their costs.