Unite, Kern County, for a better future. Stop arguing over the past.

With the world weaning itself from its dependence on fossil fuels, oil-producing Kern County will feel the inevitable impacts. But working together, public officials, oil producers and environmental advocates can transition Kern County into a prosperous future.

The world, nation and California will not be “oil free” in the near future. We will still fly in airplanes, drive cars, manufacture goods and heat homes using petroleum fuels.

The transition to an “oil free” world will take decades, if it ever completely happens. And the very oil producers some now demonize likely will be instrumental in finding alternative energy systems – maybe some using cleaner, greener petroleum products.

Clearly the future for Kern will be a complicated one that requires us all to work together, appreciate each other’s views and aim for a common goal – a prosperous, healthy Kern County, where jobs are plentiful and the economy is strong.

Led by 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner, the Kern County Board of Supervisors earlier this month unanimously approved a proposal to invite oil industry representatives to make public presentations to the board to explain the impacts new state oil regulations will have on Kern.

The planned board meeting is pushback on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s moratorium on the permitting of fracking and enhanced steam recovery systems in Kern County’s oilfields. Newsom is proposing to reduce the state’s oil supply to reach a goal of “carbon neutrality” by 2045.

Supervisors agreed to organize a coalition to tell Sacramento about the industry’s local importance. No doubt Sacramento already knows oil is important to Kern, since the county produces three-quarters of all the oil produced in California and supports 23,900 oil and gas jobs.

The board also is considering declaring a local “economic crisis” in light of what Scrivner called the “arrogance and hypocrisy of this administration to deny Californians access to our own natural resources.”

But local environmental justice advocates see Newsom’s oil regulations differently. They are asking supervisors for an opportunity to explain their concerns during the board’s industry promotion meeting.

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, contend Rosanna Esparza, a local gerontologist researching the impact oil and gas drilling has on people 65 years of age and older, and Juan Flores, a community organizer for the Delano-based Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment.

The Delano center was in the forefront of two oil-related incidents – one in 2012 in Shafter and a 2014 gas leak in Arvin that forced three dozen residents to be evacuated from their homes for weeks.

The foundations of Kern’s economy are supported by oil production and agriculture. Oil is under assault by environmentalists, who want the state’s wells to stop pumping. Agriculture is impacted by climate change, water shortages and trade wars.

Logistics, or warehouse operations, have been the focus of development efforts in recent years to diversify Kern’s economy and create more local jobs. But that industry, too, is sensitive to environmental and economic factors. Clearly more needs to be done to bring a wider range of good-paying, stable jobs into Kern.

A divided Kern will not create a robust future. Instead, public officials, businesses, environmental advocates, academics and every-day residents need to unite and work toward the common goal of achieving economic prosperity and a healthy environment. 

  • Supervisors – Listen to all voices to balance the benefits and consequences of Kern’s oil production.
  • Coalition – Include on the coalition supervisors proposed to form industry and business representatives, environmentalists, health experts and public officials to deliver to Sacramento real suggestions, rather than political talking points, to help Kern transition to a less oil-dependent world.
  • Economic Development – Revive and fund economic development efforts that were curtailed during the 2008 Great Recession. Create a coalition to unite splintered and sometimes competing economic development efforts that operate in isolated community silos throughout Kern.