BAKERSFIELD - State lawmakers passed a bill this week, that will give California the nation's strictest restrictions on fracking oil wells. But, local officials worry it could have devastating effects on Kern County's oil economy.
Oil wells have been fracked in Kern County since the 1960s, but the practice has never been specifically regulated in the state, until now.
On Wednesday, the legislature passed a bill to regulate fracking, a bill the governor is expected to sign.
"These regulations are statewide, but let's face it, it affects Kern County the most," said Allan Krauter, Senior Administrative Analyst for the Kern County Administrator's Office.
Hydraulic fracturing is when oil companies pump water, sand and chemicals underground to break up dense rock and allow oil to flow. With the use of chemicals some worry it could damage the environment.
"There's really no link between the process of fracking and any damage to the groundwater or environmental," said Randy Adams, former district deputy of the Bakersfield Division of Oil and Gas.
With concerns of future damage, the legislature passed a regulatory bill that will require oil companies to get permits for fracking, notify neighbors near drilling, disclose the chemicals used, and monitor air and groundwater quality. A statewide scientific study is also required. Environmentalists say the bill doesn't do enough.
"This bill does nothing. This bill actually weakens some protections we have right now against fracking," said Tom Frantz, a Shafter almond farmer.
Frantz said this because he worries permits will be issued as a whole, based on the statewide scientific study, not on a case by case basis.
Those in the industry worry it will prohibit production of the state's biggest oil reserve, the Monterey Shale.
"I think that the potential the Monterey presents will win out at the end. It's just going to slow down the process," said Adams.
Kern County's lawmakers agreed. Senators Jean Fuller and Andy Vidak opposed the bill.
"I was disappointed to see SB 4 approved. I believe that the state's regulatory agency was working hard to develop balanced regulations on fracking that would have protected the public while ensuring that critical oil production and exploration continued. This bill jumps into the middle of that process and just further complicates the issue for everyone," said Senator Fuller in a statement.
"We need good paying jobs in the Central Valley, and California needs energy independence from foreign countries. SB 4 would hurt both," said Senator Vidak.
Assemblymember Shannon Grove also voted against the bill.
"Hydraulic fracturing provides this nation with a reliable supply of domestic energy," said Assemblymember Grove in a statement. "The hysteria created by those opposed to all oil exploration, drives legislation like the bill I voted against yesterday. I am hopeful a more rational policy comes out of this entire debate."
Assemblymember Rudy Salas abstained.
"It is no secret that the implementation of SB 4 will have a direct impact on my district. While I support environmental safeguards in fracking, I also believe we should allow the experts at the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to develop their regulations and come to their conclusions before taking legislative action," said Assemblymember Salas in a statement.
Western States Petroleum Association, an oil company lobbying group, also opposed the bill.
"Unfortunately, SB 4 could create conditions that will make it difficult to continue to provide a reliable supply of domestic petroleum energy for California. Additionally, we are concerned the bill could make it difficult for California to reap the enormous benefits offered by development of the Monterey Shale formation in the San Joaquin Valley - benefits that include thousands of new jobs, increased tax revenues and higher incomes for residents of one of the poorest regions in the nation," said Tupper Hull of WSPA.
The Kern County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose the bill in an emergency meeting Monday because they say it would strain the energy industry. The board sent letters to both Governor Brown and the authors of the bill.
"We didn't want to see that damaged unless there was any pressing need to issue stringent regulations, and we didn't see that based on the evidence we've seen," said Krauter.
The county says this bill does not stop Kern County from doing its own independent study of the environmental impacts of fracking locally.