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State again exercises discretion to reject fracking permits in western Kern

south belridge1 (copy)

This is a view of oil production in Kern County's South Belridge Oil Field, one of the most productive in California.

For the second time, State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk has used his discretionary authority, as opposed to technical standards, to reject a series of permit applications to use the controversial oilfield technique known as fracking.

Ntuk sent a letter Monday to Bakersfield-based oil producer Aera Energy LLC saying he has reviewed and denied applications filed by the company to hydraulically fracture 14 wells in the South Belridge oil field in western Kern County.

"In the exercise of my discretion under (California law) … I am denying these permit requests 'to prevent, as far as possible, damage to life, health, property and natural resources' and to 'protect public health and safety and environmental quality, including [the] reduction and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with the development of hydrocarbon . . . resources,'” Ntuk's letter states.

The denials followed one month after Ntuk's first stated use of his discretionary authority to deny California fracking permits. Taken together, the denials suggest the Newsom administration is withholding permits as a matter of policy even before adoption of a proposed fracking ban that, if approved, would take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

In an email to The Californian, a spokesman for the state Department of Conservation said the permit denials came "on the heels of the sobering (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report on climate change." The report states scientists are observing climate changes in every region of the planet that are irreversible over hundreds if not thousands of years.

Fracking injects water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to free up petroleum deposits. Oil companies say it is done safely in California but environmentalists say it threatens air and water quality.

Environmental activists applauded Ntuk's denials last month, saying the moves would not just help in the fight against climate change but also protect the health and safety of people living near oil fields. But Kern County politicians and oil industry officials countered that there have been no reports of groundwater contamination and that banning fracking only increases California's dependence on oil imported from countries with relatively lax environmental and labor standards.

Aera was the company whose applications Ntuk's agency, the California Geologic Energy Management division, denied last month for 21 fracking permits in western Kern. The company has since filed a 59-page appeal of the rejections.

“It’s unfortunate and not unexpected that CalGEM continues to deny Aera’s (fracking) permits based solely on politics rather than sound data or science," Aera said by email Monday.

"While the denial letters lead the public to believe that (fracking) creates risks to public health, safety and the environment, the state’s own scientific studies have validated that WST is safe," it continued. "Continuing to deny these (fracking) permits only puts the hardworking people of California out of work and threatens the state’s energy supplies by making California more dependent on foreign oil."

"In the meantime, we will continue to evaluate all of our available legal options to ensure the preservation of the (fracking) process as currently allowed by state law, under what are already the most stringent regulations in the nation. Aera will continue to focus on protecting the jobs of the thousands of men and women who safely and responsibly produce the energy that powers the economy and that Californians demand.”