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Kern releases latest oilfield environmental review for public comments

Kern County rereleased an extensive environmental review of local oil and gas activity Friday, the latest move in its effort to put back in place a streamlined permitting system after an earlier version of the document was shot down in court in February.

The latest issuance of what's known as a draft supplemental recirculated environmental impact report is an opportunity for the public to comment on a document the local petroleum industry views as critical. It follows the withdrawal of a version that the county pulled for revisions earlier in October.

Lorelei Oviatt, the county planner who has headed up the effort, said the latest version includes comments received during the previous public comment period.

"As for the changes, we have revised the noise mitigation to account for the distances that would trigger construction and operational noise mitigation for the ambient noise standard," she said by email Friday. "We have included caps on how much land can be disturbed on Prime Farmland for each individual well. There are various other clarifications to mitigation which are all in italics and strikeout and underline."

According to the document, commenters will be most effective if they focus on the review's sufficiency in "identifying and analyzing the possible impacts on the environment and ways in which the significant effects of the project might be avoided or mitigated."

"Comments are most effective," it continues, "when they suggest additional and specific alternatives or mitigation measures that would provide better ways to avoid or mitigate significant environmental effects."

The review's 45-day comment period is scheduled to end Dec. 14. It would then go before the county Planning Commission for a hearing Feb. 11. After that, Kern's Board of Supervisors would be expected to vote on whether to certify the review, reviving a zoning ordinance that gives oil producers greater regulatory certainty in exchange for new fees and measures to reduce the environmental impacts of local oilfield activity.

Environmental groups and a local farming interest have fought mightily against the review, which some in agriculture say gives oil producers too much sway in negotiations with farmers. Environmentalists insist Kern should quit trying for a blanket review of local oil and gas activity and instead examine the local impacts of each individual permit application.

The industry's urgency was underscored recently when Chevron Corp. opted to postpone half a dozen hydraulic fracturing jobs in the Lost Hills area rather than have state officials perform environmental reviews the company said it would prefer be done as part of the county's proposed process.

Anyone wishing to comment on the review may do so by emailing Lead Planner Cindi Hoover at hooverc@kerncounty.com. Alternatively, comments can be mailed to the Kern County Planning and Natural Resources Department at 2700 M Street, Suite 100, Bakersfield, Calif., 93301.

A virtual public hearing on the review is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 10. Instructions for participation are expected to be released Nov. 6 and will be found online at kernplanning.com.

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