A pump jack does its work at an oil field in Kern County. Photo by Frank Lopez

published on July 9, 2021 - 1:08 PM
Written by The Business Journal Staff

Bakersfield-based Aera Energy was denied fracking permits for 21 wells in the Kern County area this week, representing the first permit denial of this scale for reasons related to public health and climate, according to an environmental group.

The California Department of Conservation on Thursday drafted letters to Aera Energy informing it that its applications for “Well Stimulation Treatment” for eight wells in the North Belridge and 13 wells in the South Belridge field were denied to prevent “damage to life, health, property, and natural resources” and for the “reduction and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.”

The well site is about 45 miles west of Bakersfield.

The denial comes about three months after Gov. Gavin Newsom banned new permits for hydraulic fracturing starting in 2024. He also called on regulators to phase out all oil production in the state by 2045.

An Aera spokesperson released the following statement about the denials:

“The Governor’s latest actions to deny Aera’s WST permits and banning all WST permits until the rulemaking to end WST is complete are disappointing, though not surprising.

This is the latest decision attacking the oil and gas industry that is based solely on politics rather than sound data or science.

Scientific studies commissioned by the State and conducted by some of the brightest minds in the world have deemed that hydraulic fracturing is safe and that it does not release hazardous chemicals to surface waters or cause groundwater contamination. 

Banning hydraulic fracturing will only put hardworking people of California out of work and threaten our energy supplies by making the state more dependent on foreign oil.

The state should be focused on protecting the economy and the people of California while we produce all forms of energy in a manner that protects public health and the environment. The people of California deserve nothing less.”

The statement concludes by saying Aera will evaluate its legal options “to ensure the preservation of the WST (well stimulation treatment/hydraulic fracture) process as currently allowed by state law…”

 We will remain focused on protecting the jobs of the thousands of men and women who safely and responsibly produce the energy Californians demand and that powers the economy.

Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch sent out a press statement calling on Newsom to go even further.

“CalGEM is following the science and adhering to its regulatory purpose in denying these fracking permits, but Governor Newsom needs to follow through and instruct his agency to deny all new oil and gas permits immediately,” said Food & Water Watch’s California Director Alexandra Nagy. “Frontline communities have just been spared the public health hazards and devastating environmental impact that would have come with the 21 fracking wells under consideration. Unfortunately, CalGEM continues to permit all other oil and gas wells that further harm public health, water and climate.”

The denial comes a week after an exclusive report from Reuters that Royal Dutch Shell plans to leave Aera, which is a joint venture with Exxon Mobil Corp. Shell is reportedly divesting from a number of “carbon intensive assets this year,” according to the Reuters report, which also states that Aera produces about 125,000 barrels of oil and 32 million cubic feet of natural gas each day, accounting for a quarter of the state’s production.

Aera’s production is located primarily in the San Joaquin Valley, including Fresno County.

Shell declined to comment for the Reuters report, citing company policy.

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