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By Suzanne Potter

April 29, 2021

The Kern County Board of Supervisors recently passed an ordinance to fast-track up to 2,700 new oil and gas wells per year over the next 15 years. (National Parks Conservation Association)

KERN COUNTY, Calif. — Environmental-justice advocates are calling on Gov. Gavin Newsom to wind down oil and gas drilling in California by 2035, instead of by 2045 as he proposed.

Last week, Newsom announced the state will work to end all fossil-fuel extraction and will stop issuing permits for fracking by 2024.

Salvador Solorio-Ruiz, a member of the city council in Delano, said the communities of color living near the wells in Kern County need relief sooner rather than later.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Solorio-Ruiz asserted. “We need to tackle this issue with urgency in order to end California’s legacy of environmental racism as well.”

Opponents of the governor’s plan claim it will cost jobs in the oil and gas industry and result in more imports from out of state. Advocates also would like to see the state stop issuing or renewing permits for wells that sit within 2,500 feet of homes, schools, hospitals, prisons or nursing homes. A bill was introduced in the Senate earlier this year to require such setbacks. California is the only major oil-producing state to not require buffer zones.

Felipe Perez, a member of the city council in Firebaugh, emigrated to the central valley as a child, worked in the fields, gained his citizenship and eventually rose to become mayor of the city of Firebaugh.

He said setbacks are crucial to protect people’s health.

“It’s a safety concern that is affecting those people that are too close from those wells,” Perez observed. “One of my kids, when he was little, he got asthma because of the pollution of the valley.”

According to a Los Angeles Times analysis, more than 350,000 Californians live within 600 feet of unplugged wells.

Earlier this year, the Kern County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance which could open up the door to thousands of new drilling permits. Citation: Gov. Newsom announcement on oil extraction April 23, 2021 Citation: Senate Bill 467 March 22, 2021 Citation: Los Angeles Times analysis February 6, 2020 Citation: Kern County, Calif. zoning ordinance revison March 8, 2021