midway-sunset oil field

The Midway-Sunset oil field near Taft is one of the state’s most productive.

Local environmental justice advocates say they want their voices heard as Kern's Board of Supervisors looks to make the case in Sacramento that halting California oil production would devastate the county's economy.

Activists' move to inject themselves into the process may cloud the board's pro-oil message. But it was unclear whether they will have a role beyond that of any other observer speaking during the public comment period of a government proceeding.

Members of a coalition of environmental justice groups say they feel overlooked amid a campaign focused explicitly on supporting Kern's most important industry. They assert that drilling for petroleum endangers the health of poor and largely immigrant neighborhoods living near local oil fields.

"In Kern County, the belly of the beast, we need to be aware (that) just because you're several miles away doesn't mean you're not going to be impacted by small particle pollution," said Rosanna Esparza, a local gerontologist researching the impact oil and gas drilling has on people 65 years and older.

She and Juan Flores, a community organizer for the Delano-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, said it's important that county supervisors represent not only the oil industry but also the communities who live near and are affected by oil production.

Flores noted the environmental justice community has spoken up before following two troubling oil-related incidents in Kern.

The first of these involved residents' reports of illness following oil drilling activity in the Shafter area in 2012. The second came after a gas pipeline leak forced the evacuation of three dozen Arvin residents in 2014.

Flores said it might be premature to end oil production altogether, considering the large number of workers the industry employs locally. But he said it might be appropriate to establish a buffer between production areas and nearby homes and other sensitive sites.

"If we can start with a buffer zone, that would be fantastic," he said.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a three-prong approach last month to expand his crackdown on the state's oil industry, he said the state will soon consider new protections for people living near production sites.

More generally, Newsom has said California must work to reduce the state's oil supply and demand as it works toward a goal of carbon neutrality by 2045.

On Tuesday, the county board voted 5-0 to support a plan proposed by Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner that would begin by inviting the industry to explain how the governor's anti-oil push would affect business.

The county initiative would also organize a coalition in support of the industry. The idea is to send the coalition to Sacramento to speak about the industry's importance to local families and neighborhoods. If necessary, the board would consider declaring an "economic crisis" caused by the oil crackdown.

Scrivner said Thursday he and other senior county officials had not received any requests by local activists for a special role in the process. Nevertheless, he said, he always appreciates constituents' viewpoints.

Members of the public will be invited to speak during two parts of the process, he said. One will be in January, when the board expects to receive a presentation by state oil regulators.

Scrivner said the other opportunity for the public to address the board about the oil initiative would be when supervisors receive staff input on the industry's local impact.

Two senior, non-elected leaders in county government did not respond to request for comment Thursday.

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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(26) comments


They can make their concerns known during the public comment process just like any other citizen, but unelected boards, alliances and advocacy groups have no right make policy other than to opine, vote and promote candidates of their choosing.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

Lamonster - How do you think public policies come to be? They are identified by locals who are concerned about an issue. It's a bottom-up process. Without citizens, boards, collaboratives, alliances and advocacy groups there would be few to no "public policies." That's why the term "Public" precedes Policy.


What in my comment differs from what you are saying? We agree that input from the public is important and valuable in helping our elected officials shape policy and enact legislation to implement such policies. Could it be that we have different understandings of what it means to have a "seat at the table"? Figuratively speaking, the table, to me, is where our elected officials gather in their positions as our representatives to conduct the peoples' business and vote on the issues. It is also where we, the public, come to make our opinions and wishes known about those issues that are important to us before action is taken. Then those with "a seat at the table" cast the votes that count. Of course we the people have the ultimate authority which we exercise at the ballot box when we choose who will periodically fill our seat at the table. I don't think we are that far apart here, so forgive me if I seem to be splitting hairs. :-)


Maybe it is just me, with all the money in oil, would have been investing in making the oil sites more presentable, *hidden" from the public with natural trees and concrete bunkers surrounding every oil pump. Pennies compared to the profits that are pumped from the ground. When environmentalist do come, they will find trees and birds living in the area of the oil wells and clean water running down the Kern River, may even place a few hiking paths with resting spots to show that resources could be harvested without jeopardizing the environment. Stop fighting and start doing!!

Chad Hathaway

Hey CMO. All the parks we have around town are paid for through tax generated revenue. Guess who the top taxpayers are?? Oil companies.


Don't disagree, oil pays for most of public finance's in Kern County, just a suggestion to keep the wolves at bay to show oil companies are environmental friendly.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

Our concern is public health and the impact over time of exposure to chemicals for example: Dichlorofluoromethane-eyes, nose throat irritation, dizziness. Exposure can cause irregular heart beat. Acetone-skin, nose, eye, throat irritation, headache, nausea. Exposure to high concentrations may cause damage to male reproductive system, decreasing sperm count. Isoprene- skin, eye, throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, dizziness. Isoprene has been shown to cause liver, lung, mammary gland and other types of cancer in animals. Cause reproductive damage in humans. These are just three of the more than 200 chemicals identified in field samples from various oil fields in Kern County. Unfortunately oil producers have left a legacy of abandoned wells, corroded tanks, pipes and structures that are an considered an attractive nuisance and a danger to unsuspecting residents.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

That is incorrect. Please check your facts. Many park improvements are funded through grants submitted by staff or community groups for example Committee for Better Arvin and Greenfield Walking Group.


I’m sorry, but with all due respect you are the one who is incorrect. And I do know the facts. Mr. Hathaway said nothing about park improvements. Public parks are paid for with tax dollars, even many of the improvements. Now granted, in lower income areas the programs you speak of do occur, but not for ‘many’ parks as you claim.

Other than your mistaken comment, I otherwise applaud your efforts. I noticed you are only targeting oil companies but I am curious as to why are you not also targeting farming? Their use of chemicals is affecting people as well, not to mention, as a health concern side note, their sizable contribution to the huge amount of particulate matter in our air.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

This story does not elaborate on the work and advocacy that EJ groups are engaged in. Apparently there is little interest in the everyday aspects of protecting the public health and our collaborative work in Kern Co and the San Joaquin Valley or those stories would be covered. We work with regulatory agencies (training, data, reporting) and the University of CA campuses (field instruction of grad students in environmental studies, environmental law & public health) as well as private entities and universities outside of CA. Our air monitoring feasibility studies launched in 2015 in Arvin, Shafter, Lost Hills were precursors to AB 617 highlighting the unique air quality challenges we face here in the Valley: Winter-PM2.5; Summer-Ozone; Major transportation arteries, high population growth, high poverty & unemployment. AB 617 brought new clean air resources for community-focused efforts: $80 million in AB 617 funding for emission reductions in the first year and a total of $350 million available for incentive-based emission reductions in the Valley. CARB selected 10 communities statewide for year one. The City of Shafter and South Central Fresno are among those selected in September 2018 with implementation in 2019. We are concerned with all sources of community-level air quality issues not only oil and gas. Our goal is to reduce health risks from existing and new businesses through District permitting and air toxics hot spot programs. An example IVAN. I invite you to Google IVAN (identifying violations via a network of reports) to learn more about community-based reporting and advocacy. Our own Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) has received statewide accolades for their work. KEEN staff meets regularly with regulators and gov't officials. Monthly meetings open to the public on the 1st Tuesday of every month 1:00 PM to 3:30 PM @ Dolores Huerta Foundation Conference Room 2nd Floor in Bakersfield. KEEN is a program of the Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN). It's unfortunate that a bias exists about our collaborative work and the impact our small studies have in securing multi-million dollar investments in Kern Co and the SJV. Thank you for asking.


Miss Esparza and Mr. Flores will get to speak during the public comment period which the BOS is mandated to provide so that those who wish to weigh in can do so. There is no reason for the BOS to ask them to be involved in any other capacity.


I don't suppose,,, stop me if it's redundant... is there any way these two groups can work together for the common good? If we lose all of the oil and agriculture we the homeowners will be bearing the burden of closing the gap in our budget from the taxes we will lose without the oil and ag input (taxes). Everybody step back, breathe and look at the issues. Together you can work it out without a war.

Chad Hathaway

You can’t work with people who deny facts. To them this is a religion. Many of them are extremists as well. Ever tried to reason with an extremist? Just like this article instead of reaching out to the County first they immediately go to the press. They don’t what to reason. Oil has given and given over the years. Now it’s time to say enough is enough,

Rosanna Esparza PhD

That's an excellent question. As I mentioned in an earlier comment we (Environmental Justice Advocates) regularly interface with elected officials at the State level, local regulators, program officers and scientists involved in air monitoring and public health. Our relationships are solid and built on mutual respect and appreciation for the constraints that exist in our respective work. I don't know who Mr. Hathaway is referring to that he formed his opinion. We are Advocates, Not Activists. We are educated, experienced and concerned. We advocate for an equitable quality of life for all. We all share this space and we are all responsible for maintaining the balance of Earth and her resources. To put it bluntly, our lives depend on an egalitarian process to resolve the climate crisis and reduce our dependency on those products that are harmful to humans.


we continue to rape our earth, despite the earth showing us she has had enough. what will be left for all grandchildren?

Chad Hathaway

Rape the Earth? Seriously. Are we raping the earth by mining for rare earth minerals to make batteries???


I wonder if these rich entitled "Activists" feel the earth is being raped to fill their jewelry boxes with shiny baubles. Gold, diamonds, platinum, emeralds, rubies, silver, opals. I could keep going, but you get the picture.

Chad Hathaway

I’d like to hear the EJ groups explain how their wreckless actions and baseless comments have lead to countless job losses that are devastating Kern. Please come testify and tell us your make believe facts. Please explain how we’ll replace this valuable resource and your plans for a better future.

No industry in Kern county more than oil transforms people from poverty to wealth, pays more taxes and contributes more to their community.

This hearing is for industry surrounding an economic topic. Way to stir the pot Cox and divert.


Stop saying oil business transforms people out of poverty. When in fact, it keeps them in poverty . Bakersfield is a filthy, uneducated, poisoned community. Whether paid well or hardly paid, just living here is disgusting.

Let's thin out the wells, eliminate fracking and phase out all refinery and transportation. Allow Oildale and Rosedale to recover . With clean air, companies will move in. . Let's stop the abuse. It's embarrassing and deadly.

Is there a way to organize everyday citizens to speak up ?

Gene Pool Chlorinator

If Bakersfield is so terrible ("living here is disgusting"), why don't you LEAVE???

*Everyday citizen speaking up here*

Rosanna Esparza PhD

Lilyrose, yes there are ways to organize everyday citizens. Please send your contact into. to the moderator of this site or John Cox who wrote the piece and ask to have it forwarded to me. Many residents are fearful of speaking up for fear that they will be publicly attacked in print or verbally abused at a community meeting. Such has been my experience in Kern Co. The industry dispatches individuals with low tolerance for Freedom of Speech of others in public spaces. My one comment in this story was rather benign. I did have a 45 minute interview with Mr. Cox about health impacts which he chose not to highlight. As you can plainly see by the reaction from some of the comments posted here, courtesy is not their strong suit.

The Jackal

Blame the oil company Executives for not doing enough to transition to clean energy jobs and keeping all the wealth for themselves while laying off thousands.

Masked 2020

you go girl......give them Hello for me 2.... she a real fire cracker.....a Chicano Quaker... Faces of Fracking: Rosanna Esparza October 30, 2014

Chad Hathaway

She’s a paid surrogate of the EJ cash cow. Zero credibility, zero facts. Just scare tactics.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

Mr. Hathaway, again you are mistaken, I am not "paid as a surrogate of the EJ Cash Cow." I am a volunteer lending my expertise and knowledge to residents and the community-at-large. I've contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer time to residents and organizations in Kern Co. Would that more people could afford to do the same. My research is funded by grants from private entities and/or universities.

Rosanna Esparza PhD

Why Supervisor Scrivner et al didn't receive calls from EJ orgs focused on public health impacts and set-backs? We were unaware the Board of Supervisor's planned to speak with one voice against Gov. Newsom's plan to reduce fossil fuels. Thank you for informing us that members of Board of Supervisors await our calls, email and guidance implementing environmental justice praxis as outlined by Gov. Newsom.

Welcome to the discussion.

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