Tens of thousands of oil wells could be developed in Kern County, California as an ordinance which was previously denied exploration is being revised. This Monday, the Kern County Board of Supervisors are expected to vote to determine whether to allow the drilling of up to 2,700 wells a year, or 65,000 over the next two decades.
Questions over the environmental impact have so far stopped the development of the project, as previous plans did not present the potential environmental damage that drilling might cause.
Kern County is the biggest oil producer in California with around 1 in 7 workers involved in the industry, or 25,000 directly employed in the oil sector.
The oil potential of Kern County has been largely overlooked in the past, with few paying attention to Californian oil. However, it is the steam-flood capital of the world, using steam to reduce the viscosity of oil so it flows better. Across the country, the machinery around oil wells makes the extent of the industry clear to any onlooker.
The potential for greater exploration followed a change in the county’s zoning code in 2015 that allowed for the approval of oil and gas extraction permits that met the requirements of a blanket environmental impact report. This was expected to save authorities time and money, by avoiding costly assessments of individual wells.
Many worry, however, that the one-size-fits-all approach could have a detrimental impact on the local environment. Different habitats and surrounding areas need to be measured independently to gauge the risks of digging and extraction.
The majority of oil wells that have been approved in recent years are based in low-income communities, around 98 percent of the 18,000 wells approved between 2015-2019. While the oil industry offers a significant boost to the local economy, it is important that health and safety are considered when approving new developments.
Several voices in the industry have highlighted the importance of oil and gas in job creation. Thanks to the scope of the industry, many Latinos across the county that previously worked in agriculture have now switched to the oil industry, which offers them higher salaries.
At present, there are approximately 78,000 oil wells across Kern County, which account for 80 percent of California’s total oil and gas production. This production originates in the San Joaquin Valley basin.
As well as continuing to develop its oil and gas sectors, Kern County is also bounding ahead in renewables. The biodiesel, wind and solar power industries are growing steadily across the region and the county is home to the largest biodiesel plant in California, from firm Crimson Renewable.
At present there are over 5,000 wind turbines in the Tehachapi-Mojave wind corridor, which produce 1.3 million megawatts each year. There are also 19 commercial solar projects, as well as two utility scale projects in the county awaiting approval from the California Energy Commission.
The potential for Kern County’s oil industry to continue well into the next decade is hopeful for the future of American oil and gas. In addition, increased investment in renewables could lead to the greater diversification of energy in the region, as it continues as a power giant.
By Felicity Bradstock for Oilprice.com
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