On Thursday, December 10, environmental organizations filed a complaint against Kern County in California Superior Court alleging that the County violated the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”) by preparing a “grossly inadequate” Environmental Impact Report (“EIR”) for its new oil and gas rules. The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (jointly “the Sierra Club”), along with several other local organizations, take issue with the programmatic approach of the EIR, and urge a well-by-well environmental analysis. This lawsuit comes as no surprise to the County. Environmental groups have a long history of opposing oil and gas development in Kern County, which produces over 70% of all the oil in California.
This lawsuit comes in reaction to a Kern County zoning ordinance amendment which harnessed broad local support. On November 9, 2015, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved amendments to Title 19 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance which provides a streamline permitting process for oil and gas operations. Notably, the new ordinance encourages oil and gas producers to work with surface owners to agree on a development plan, promoting cooperation and transparency. The amendments also required the County to conduct an extensive environmental analysis pursuant to CEQA. The Board of Supervisors certified the Final EIR after holding multiple public Scoping Meetings and reviewing various mitigation measures.
The Sierra Club’s complaint states that the “Final EIR’s analysis is general and cursory and only addresses impacts at a regional or landscape level without ever addressing the tens of thousands of individual wells and associated activities that the County insists are covered by the report.” Critics state that the environmental organizations seek to curb oil and gas production rather than ensure adequate environmental review.
The Sierra Club is not alone in challenging the EIR. King & Gardiner Farms and Vaquero Energy each filed their own lawsuits, alleging issues related to surface rights and split estates, including notification requirements.