Much has been written and debated lately about Gov. Gavin Newsom's "managed decline" or "just transition" away from fossil fuel production and use in California, and in particular, on its devastating effect on Kern County's current industrial and economic base.
For a little historical perspective, although Newsom is receiving most of the credit (or blame) for this mission, it was actually initiated some 10 to 12 years ago, during the Jerry Brown administration, and while the Division of Oil and Gas (now CalGEM) was under the leadership of Elena Miller and Rob Habel. As a 31-year veteran engineer for DOG (with my last 26 years in the Bakersfield DOG office), and until my retirement in 2015, I was a witness to this agency's drastic transformation.
Rather than litigate or pass judgement on this agency's agenda or the current governor's philosophy on transitioning the state from fossil fuels to renewable energy, we should all just accept the reality that this change is both necessary to combat climate change and inevitable. Whether or not the oil industry still remains a viable entity in Kern County in the foreseeable future, county and state leaders should seriously begin working together to begin chartering a new course to diversify our economic base and lure new industries into Kern County.
On that subject, Kern County is in a prime position to become a potential future powerhouse and state leader in the manufacturing, storage, installation and operation of renewable energy equipment and facilities, specifically in the areas of solar and wind energies. These industries could supply more good paying blue-collar and white-collar jobs, across a wide range of educational and skill prerequisites, than the oil industry currently does. The county and state could encourage or mandate higher rates of solar energy production by requiring that all new home construction and municipal parking lots in the county use solar panels.
Kern County already produces more wind-generated electricity than any other county in the state, and by luring turbine manufacturers into our county with tax incentives, lower overhead and an abundant labor pool, even more wind farms could be erected. That means more jobs in the manufacturing, storage, installation and the operation/maintenance of those facilities. Of course, the same is true for bringing in solar manufacturing companies, and because of the abundance of undeveloped, relatively inexpensive and sun-bathed land in Kern, many more solar farms could and should be erected than there are presently.
Another new and quickly evolving field that would be well suited for Kern, and somewhat related to the renewable energy industry, is the green house gas capture and sequestration technology. This field is in its infantile stages, but the technology currently exists to capture CO2 from both fixed sources (power plants, steam generators, etc.) and from the atmosphere, and also to capture bio-methane from dairies. And Kern has no shortage of said dairies and fixed combustable sources. CO2 capture from the atmosphere could, along with lowering active emissions from fixed and mobile sources, reduce the current CO2 levels in the atmosphere, and hence begin reversing the effects of climate change.
On the sequestration side of this process, Kern could once again provide an ideal market for this new industry, and along with it, many new jobs. Due to Kern's long history of oil and gas production, there are many now-depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs (formations) that would now "double" as perfect receptacles for the injection and safe storage of massive volumes of green house gases. These reservoirs are deep, extensive and contain a large voided storage capacity. The drilling and operation of these new injection wells (designated Class 6 UIC wells by the EPA), or the conversion of existing oil/gas wells to injection, would provide another great source of employment for current oilfield workers that already possess much expertise in this area.
These potentially new industries and sources of employment, described above, would help fill the "gap" of jobs lost in a "declining" oil industry. They would also greatly diversify Kern County's economy, and secure a brighter future for our county's economic growth. All that's required is the desire, initiative and will of our county and state leaders to facilitate and create these opportunities.
Richard Thesken is a 31-year resident of Bakersfield and is now a professional consulting geologist and certified hydrogeologist.