The Kern County Board of Supervisors took the first step Tuesday in coming up with a new set of rules for oil drilling on prime farmland.
The Board had two items on the agenda that will set up a framework for how big oil and big ag will co-exist in the future.
Settling disputes and streamlining the permitting process for oil operations in Kern County. In one unanimous decision, both items were approved.
Oil and ag dominate big business in Kern County. And, the two go hand in hand because most growers farm on dirt above the light sweet crude.
"It employs nearly 15,000 people in our community. It is the number one property tax generator in all of our community, particularly when you add these two industries together. What, about a month and a half ago seemed to be a complete impasse, we had no pathway to a solution," said 3rd District Supervisor, Mike Maggard.
Item one was setting up a way to settle disputes between growers who own the dirt and oil companies who own the mineral rights below the surface.
In the past, farmers and oil companies had to settle any land-use disputes privately. Unresolved disputes would end up in court.
Under the new system, those disputes will now be heard by the Board of Supervisors, something the oil industry objects to.
"It's different to enter into a formal process when we think we can work out some of those issues beforehand. And, that makes the formal process easier. To do it as part of the formal process is not our preference," said Cathy Reheis-Boyd, Western States Petroleum Association.
But, that's what growers want in order to voice their concerns over drilling projects on their land.
Meantime, in the long-term, the county will re-write its zoning ordinance governing oil and gas drilling, streamlining the permitting process, and giving the county stronger local control over future drilling operations on prime farmland.
"They still have to go get a permit from the Department of Oil and Gas. But, CEQA will be done. We are looking at the potential of $5 trillion of investment in California. People will not invest in California if they don't have a streamlined process," said Kern County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt.
That re-write and the environmental impact report that goes with it, could take up to 18 months to complete and will cost millions, but it will be funded by the oil industry.
That review will include an in-depth analysis of the oil drilling practice known as fracking, and groundwater protection.