California’s EOPA, a coalition of lawmakers, highlights the injustice of proposed new oil and gas wells, fracking, in Kern county

California’s EOPA warns of the increased dangerous health implications for communities in Kern county with adding more wells

On March 8, 2021 Kern county approved the drilling of thousands of new wells despite opposition from farmers, elected officials and activists. The plan to fast-track drilling of 40 thousand new oil and gas wells over the next 15 years got the go ahead from Kern County Board of Supervisors in a 5-0 vote. The revised ordinance could lead to approval of as many as 2,700 new wells a year. Hundreds of people from the community and across California spoke via phone at the marathon 11-hour meeting that decided the fate of more oil and gas wells. Yet it took the county board of supervisors only minutes to vote their approval.

For generations, spanning 8,000 square miles, Kern county has been known as the oil and agricultural capital of California. The county produces about 70 percent of the state’s oil and more than 90 percent of its natural gas.

The excuse for more oil development came down to financial revenues for the county. Roughly one in seven workers in Kern are employed by the industry or tied to it. However, nearly 20 percent or residents live below the poverty line — that’s 1 in 5. Adding injury to insult,  the oil and gas industry continues to damage the health of all who live or work near their operations. Heavy truck traffic, factory emissions, pesticide spraying and oil and gas drilling, combined with the geography of the land, all contribute to the area’s incredibly bad air quality.  

“With the entire state watching, the Kern County Board of Supervisors showed yet again that it wants to put profit ahead of the will of their constituents and the overwhelming science that conclusively shows that move extraction in Kern hurts communities. As someone born and raised in Kern, I am frustrated that the voices of so many frontline residents were ignored by the very people elected to protect them. I commend the organizers who fought so hard, and continue to fight, and vow to do whatever I can to support their efforts to stop this ordinance from moving forward,” said Sacramento Councilmember Katie Valenzuela, Co-Chair California’s Elected Officials to Protect America.  

More than 30 percent of children under 17 are diagnosed with asthma in Kern, that’s more than double the rate across the state.

The American Lung Association ranks cities in the region among the worst in the US for air quality and gives the county an F rating for both ozone and particle pollution. A recent study from Harvard University, in collaboration with three English universities, found that one in five premature deaths can be attributed to fossil fuel air pollution. According to this new research, 34,000 people in California died in 2018 from fossil fuel air pollution prematurely – numbers three times higher than previously suggested by other studies. 

“Air pollution knows no boundaries. Oil and gas drilling in Kern County has already significantly impacted the air we breathe. The drilling releases a toxic soup of chemicals and tiny particles, called particulates, which gets into our lungs and sticks there. Scientific studies show a direct link between this drilling and a long list of health problems, from chronic asthma and cancers to preterm births. Adding more oil drilling pollution to the existing high level of pollution in Kern county will just make matters worse,” said Delano Mayor Byran Osorio, Co-chair of California’s Elected Officials to Protect America. “Our fight continues to protect our citizens from these devastating health impacts.”

Last October a study, published in Cardiovascular Research estimated that 17 percent of deaths in North America from COVID-19 could be attributed to long-term air pollution exposure. 

Statewide Latinos represent 41.5 percent of people aged 35 to 49 years old, yet they account for about 74 percent of coronavirus deaths. Many happened in Kern county, which is mainly Latino. 

Dozens of peer-reviewed studies done in high oil-producing areas across the country have found that living close to a drilling site correlates with high rates of cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The National Resources Defense Council report reveals that 14 percent of the state’s population, 5.4 million Californians, lives within a mile of at least one oil or gas well. Of that group, 69 percent, 3.7 million residents, are people of color, as of 2014. 

Elected Officials to Protect America’s California branch recommends a 2,500-foot buffer zone between cancer-causing oil and gas extraction sites and homes, schools and hospitals. Over 318 Californian elected officials signed a EOPA-CA letter urging Gov. Newsom to enact this common-sense safety measure. For communities of color and working-class communities living under daily threats from these operations change is long overdue. The probability of becoming ill from COVID-19 is increased for people living in these fence-line communities. 

“Since 2018 we’ve been requesting common sense setbacks for the health and well being of all Californians who live, work or play next to these dangerous, deadly wells. We started with Governor Brown, who brought fracking to the state. Now we’re urging Governor Newsom to take action,” said Christian Brock, CEO EOPA-CA, former Air Force Major (ret.) “The evidence is overwhelming. We’re monitoring the progress of a bill by Sens. Scott Wiener and Monique Limón that is currently going through the legislature to ban fracking and institute setbacks. Our members, who herald from 49 counties in the state, representing millions of Californians, are firmly behind swift passage of this legislation.”

Kern County officials know that the oil and gas industry helps fund their schools to the tune of $103 million. So, why can’t this billion-dollar industry fund setbacks to keep those school children safe from the toxins they also supply in abundance?

Kern also accounts for roughly 25 percent of California’s clean renewable energy supply.

“Renewable energy and other green jobs are on the rise; they are the future of economic growth across Kern County. As we transition to a clean economy oil and gas workers can continue to work by capping and cleaning up old wells. The clean-up could create more than 9,000 good-paying jobs over the next 10 years just in Kern,” said Delano Mayor Byran Osorio, Co-chair EOPA-CA. “We can’t continue to work with the constant spectre of illness, while the owners of oil operations become richer. People are dying. We have an opportunity here to create good-paying, sustainable jobs that will keep our families safe and our economy strong. We need our leaders to prioritize public health, over corporate profits.”

The county’s own environmental impact assessment found that there will be more air and water quality issues and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions when more oil and gas wells are added. And the strain on the groundwater supply will impact agricultural producers. The area already suffers from devastating drought. Many don’t have access to clean drinking water.

Wastewater disposal injection wells, surface discharge of produced water, hydraulic fracturing, and enhanced oil recovery are central to the industry’s survival and future growth, yet these practices contaminate the water. Being able to cheaply manage and exploit water resources has been an important strategy for the industry for more than a century, and the current financial pressure on producers will likely lead to more cost cutting measures and accompanying policies that put water at risk.

On March 9, community and environmental groups filed a lawsuit against the ordinance in Kern county superior court against the county, the board of supervisors, the California Independent Petroleum Association and the Western States Petroleum Association arguing that the environmental review conducted was inadequate. lawsuit against the county, calling it a “disaster for public health.”

While California claims to be an environmentally friendly state — it remains one of the largest oil producers in the country. And CA oil refineries process dirty crude from around the world polluting fence-line communities of color and low-income communities.

In 2020, Governor Newsom was mute when his regulatory agency, CalGEM, lifted his temporary fracking moratorium and issued more fracking permits. It also doubled new oil and gas drilling permits. On New Year’s Eve 2020, CalGEM issued a round of new fracking permits, despite the governor’s own executive order which committed his administration to producing a draft plan for a rule-making process to protect frontline communities from harmful oil extraction by the end of 2020. The draft plan never materialized.

The mission of EOPA: To create a safe, prosperous, and healthy planet, we empower leadership from elected officials and civic leaders to protect our environment, and fight the climate crisis. As current and former elected officials who care deeply about protecting our planet and people from the dangers of climate change, EOPA educates through value-based storytelling, trains lawmakers, and connects elected officials to inspire strong environmental policy. Lawmakers who are veterans and elected officials lead our mission.


March 18, 2021


Contact: Ramona du Houx,
Communications Director
Elected Officials to Protect America
Cell: 207.319.4727