The court invalidated the permitting ordinance that allows oil companies to start drilling under a blanket environmental impact report instead of performing an EIR for each well.
The county accounts for about 70% of California’s oil production and nearly 80% of its gas production, according to state statistics.
More Than 1,000 Permits Issued Since 2015
Over the last five years, Kern County has issued more than 1,000 drilling permits.
The court ordered the county to set aside the ordinance and to revise its EIR to fix violations of the California Environmental Quality Act.
Environmentalists: Victory for Health and Climate
Environmentalist applauded the ruling,
“This is a huge victory for our health and climate,” Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “The court ruled that Kern County violated the law when it fast-tracked more oil and gas development and hid the immense harm caused by drilling.”
“Oil and gas operations compete with families and farmers for scarce freshwater supplies and they pump deadly air pollutants into the Central Valley. Those impacts can’t be ignored,” said Colin O’Brien, an attorney with the group Earthjustice who argued the case.
County Is Studying the Ruling
The county declined to comment Tuesday because attorneys were still studying the 150-page decision, Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop told KGET-TV.
Kern County struggles with bad air quality because of ozone and dust. It also has water demands for farming that require importing water and pumping groundwater.
A 2015 amendment to the county’s zoning code allowed the county to grant approval of new oil and gas extraction permits after a review that determined the application would meet requirements of a blanket EIR.
Environmentalists argued that the ordinance was designed to rubber-stamp tens of thousands of new wells over the next 25 years.
Lower Court Sided With County
A Kern County Superior Court judge previously struck down most arguments against the ordinance. However, the appellate court found that the ordinance relied on a flawed EIR that failed to properly address pollution issues involving water, ag land, and noise.
The ordinance was designed to streamline permitting and avoid costly and time-consuming environmental reviews of individual wells and it was approved “despite its significant, adverse environmental impacts,” the appellate court ruling said.
“The ordinance’s basic purpose is the acceleration of oil and gas development and the economic benefits that might be achieved by that development,” the ruling said. “Its basic purpose is not the protection of the environment.”
(Associated Press contributed to this report.)