Instead of backing down, Kern County government plans to take another run at the oil-and-gas environmental review struck down on appeal Tuesday in a major setback for local petroleum production.

Lorelei Oviatt, who as the county's top planner oversaw the massive, industry-funded review approved in 2015, said her staff will soon begin a new, year-long environmental review limited in scope to the specific areas with which the Fifth District Court of Appeals found fault.

She acknowledged that the county will soon have to rescind the streamlined oil-permitting ordinance that had been supported by the now-tarnished environmental assessment.

After that, local oil projects will no longer require a county permit, which will put state regulators back in the uncomfortable position of taking the lead on environmental reviews of in-county oil projects.

But Oviatt asserted that the new review will likely lead to amended rules that will be discussed with various community stakeholders, brought before the county Planning Commission and then probably go to Kern's Board of Supervisors for final approval.

"We're going to fix it," she said of the environmental review. "We'll make it better."

Oviatt declined to say whether the county plans to appeal the ruling to the California Supreme Court.

Attorneys for environmental groups that joined a Shafter almond grower in suing to invalidate the review said the county should abandon its efforts to complete a blanket environmental review for all oil activity in the county.

Rather, they said every drilling project in the county should be assessed individually for its environmental impacts.

"I think the underlying premise that you can do a single environmental review for all oil and gas … is a futile effort,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney for one of the plaintiffs, the Arizona-based Center for Biological Diversity.

Colin O’Brien, an attorney at San Francisco-based Earthjustice, which represented plaintiff Sierra Club in the case, rejected Oviatt's assertion that the county ordinance's defeat will remove various mitigations now required to lessen the environmental impacts of local oil production. He said there's nothing stopping the state from putting in place similar mitigation measures.

Oviatt noted the county did not lose on every point in the court case. The county's upcoming review will focus mostly on noise impacts, alternatives to the conservation easements that had been used as mitigation measures and the need to clean up the "produced water" that comes up from the ground along with oil.

Additionally, the county will need to recirculate scientific studies showing oil production's health impacts on nearby communities, she said.

But a major point on which the county prevailed, she noted, was the idea that the county can put in place a ministerial process for issuing drilling permits.

"That was a big win," she said. "It was groundbreaking."

The state department responsible for regulating oil production in the state, the Department of Conservation, noted Wednesday that this week's court ruling did not affect existing oil permits and left the county's permitting system in place for 30 days.

"During that time, the DOC will determine appropriate next steps to ensure that any (state) approvals include appropriate CEQA compliance," it said, referring to the California Environmental Quality Act.

The department strongly supported the county ordinance before its adoption in 2015, largely because the state had come under legal attack — and still is — over its own environmental assessments. The county rules had taken pressure off the state by making Kern the primary agency over such reviews.

While some oil companies and a industry trade group declined to comment on the court decision, saying they were still going over the 150-page ruling, CEO Rock Zierman of the California Independent Petroleum Association called the ruling "a major step backward for environmental protection, energy security and the well-being of Kern County."

"The massive mitigation measures the industry took under the ordinance change will now be put on hold," he said by email. "Nobody wins under that scenario."

A large local oil producer, Santa Clarita-based California Resources Corp., said the company and its workforce look forward to supporting the county as it works to address the court ruling.

"While we’re very concerned about potential impacts to Kern County, CRC maintains a robust drilling permit inventory," it said in an emailed statement.

"In addition, Elk Hills and our other key operations have successfully undergone multiple environmental reviews, which we believe provide additional support for continued issuance of permits," the company stated.

John Cox can be reached at 661-395-7404. Follow him on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf. Sign up at Bakersfield.com for free newsletters about local business.

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(9) comments

Moardeeb

The Trump Administration has rolled back 95 EPA Programs and regulations in 3 years. The main cause of our climate change is man made. It's the petroleum industry. We have to start NOW or it will be too late we have to make the transition.

Try to see beyond your own short life and help leave the planet in good enough shape for the next generation to live.

If not, the world will be at war on a global scale over food and drinking water.

Wake up!

byebyeCA

It;s man made alright.......over population.

Bodysnatcher

You’re full of yourself dweeb if you think man can destroy this planet. We can destroy ourselves, but earth? How arrogant of you and your ilk to think man can “save the planet” when we couldn’t destroy it if we tried. Such arrogance and stupidity of liberals and progressives. May God have mercy on us all, but this planet won’t. You wake up.

Veritas

Alright doobie, why don’t you show us all the way and lead by example. As a true protest against the petroleum industry you need to give up your cell phone, computer, tablet, and/or any other communication/internet devices as they are all petroleum based. Such a heroic action will inspire others such as yourself to follow suit. Otherwise, you are a hypocrite ever time you say people who use items that are petroleum based are destroying the world. Can you walk the talk or not?

ReefRanger

The Center for Biological Diversity needs to keep itself in Arizona, and stay out of Kern County Business. They have inserted themselves into several projects here in Kern. Everything from the planned casino at the Grapevine to the oil industry permit system. California has enough tree huggers. We don't need outside activists sticking their nose in where it doesn't belong.

alexkelley

Since TBC won’t do its job, I will provide some background on who is REALLY pushing this attack on Kern County: The Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) is a wealthy and radical anti-development activist and litigation organization that specializes in manipulating the Endangered Species Act to prevent resource production and human activity. It’s funding comes from some of the largest left-wing foundations in America, including the Tides Foundation, The New York Times Company Foundation, Rockefeller Family Fund, and Pew Charitable Trusts. Also receives funding by Grant from the globalist Wilburforce Foundation who gives heavily to other notorious environmentalists, including the Environmental Law Institute, the Sierra Foundation and the Union of Concerned Scientists. It donated 100s of thousands of dollars to Hillary’s campaign and, of course, supports Bernie Sander’s and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal lock-stock-&-barrel. This is not JUST SOME LOCAL ALMOND GROWER pushing back on local Oil Producers. This is Gov. Newsom calling in “all [leftists] hands on deck” attack on Kern County Oil. WAKE UP KERN COUNTY!! Ag too better take note: when there done using you as conduit to taking down our Oil Producers, they’ll turn on YOU NEXT!

Masked 2020

Lorelei Oviatt sounds like a shill for Big oil....

Gene Pool Chlorinator

No more than you being a shill for the EDF...

Good_Luck

Ms. Oviatt is very bright.

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