In a process that took nearly three years to complete, on Monday, November 9, the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a significant change to its oil and gas regulations.
The change affects Title 19 of the Kern County Zoning Ordinance and provides a streamline permitting process for oil and gas operations. The change required the County to conduct an extensive environmental analysis pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).
Prior to the amendment, the Zoning Ordinance authorized “unrestricted drilling,” with no County permit required in certain areas, subject to compliance with requirements set by the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”). However, opposition in recent years from environmental activists challenging DOGGR’s environmental review of oil projects prompted the County to conduct a nearly County-wide environmental review to allow for a more efficient approval process.
The amendments put new requirements and costs on oil and gas producers, but allow for more certainty in permitting. Beginning December 9, 2015, county staff will review all proposed projects to determine if they comply with the new zoning ordinance. If a proposed project does not violate the county rules, the producer will pay a fee and receive a permit in as little as seven days from when the application was submitted. No conditional use permits are required, meaning no public hearings and no further environmental studies are needed.
The new amendments encourage producers to work with surface owners to agree on a development plan. Under the amended zoning ordinance, the surface owner needs to sign off on a drilling plan before the oil and gas developer can get a fast-track permit. Without getting the surface owner’s approval, the permit process can face delays of up to 4 months.
While this amendment comes as good news to many, and despite its broad local support, it will undoubtedly face multiple legal challenges in the coming months.
Kern County leads the state in oil and natural gas production. Kern County produces approximately 75% of California’s in-state oil and about 58% of the state’s total natural gas.