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Oil official: Arvin leading assault on industry with possible ordinance

Photo: Eric Kounce / Wikimedia via MGN, file

The city of Arvin is considering a new ordinance that would create restrictions and regulations on the oil and gas industry.

Last Tuesday when the City Council planned to vote on the ordinance, the chambers were packed. Firefighters needed to ask people to stand outside because city hall was well over the maximum capacity of 82 people.

Among those in attendance were many heavy hitters from the oil and gas industry, many of which do not reside in Arvin or have any business in Arvin.

These people addressed the council because while they may not operate in Arvin, they feel the ordinance could cause them to lose a lot if it inspires other cities in Kern County and the Central Valley to make their own laws.

"It's problematic," said Willie Rivera, director of regulatory affairs for the California Independent Petroleum Association. "When in our own backyard, where we as an industry do so much to support the community, that a city would set a precedent."

Rivera and many others in the fossil fuels industry believe cities should not get in the business of creating local laws regarding their industry, because from the federal government down to individual counties they are already as regulated as it gets.

"The Division of Oil and Gas, the Air Resources Board, to the State Water Resources Control Board, to the State Environmental Protection Agency, to regional boards, to air pollution control districts to the county of Kern," said Rivera to name a few.

However, Arvin City Manager Al Noyola disagress that just because oil and gas is already regulated doesn't mean it can't be more regulated. According to him, every other industry, and even private residents, need to follow the laws of the federal government, the state and the city. He believes oil and gas should be no exception.

“Fortunately, we live in America where power goes all the way down to local communities,” said Noyola. “Local communities know how to best facilitate a harmonious relationship between everyone in their community.”

Rivera though said if the city of Arvin wanted a "harmonious relationship" then it should've brought industry experts to the table while they were drafting the ordinance.

Noyola's response to that is the ordinance is based on ordinances put into place in the Los Angeles area, and that was done with industry input.

"I'd be the first to shout from the rooftops, what works for Los Angeles does not work here," said Rivera. "What works in LA doesn't work in Kern."

Other industry experts have referred to the ordinance as a virtual ban of oil and gas exploration and retrieval in Arvin. Meanwhile, city officials continuously deny it is a ban.

Industry experts also have painted a picture in which if this ordinance goes through many people in Arvin would lose their jobs.

To a certain extent that is not true.

Only five oil and gas companies exist in Arvin, and in total they operation 13 functioning wells.

“They may have operations in our community, but it doesn’t have a great economic impact,” said Noyola. “The sales happen elsewhere, the labor often isn’t local, and the impact isn’t in Arvin.”

Rivera said it is "offensive" that city officials would suggest that industries or companies that aren't major contributors to the tax base shouldn't get a seat at the table to discuss their own fate. He also points out the county does benefit tremendously from fossil fuels and Arvin benefits from grants disbursed by the county.

According to Rivera, the ordinance, if passed as is, will raise the cost of production, which will hurt both Kern County and Arvin.

The mayor of Arvin doesn't care about the cost of production.

“I was elected by the people of Arvin, and I’m looking out for their best interests,” said Mayor Jose Gurrola. “I’m not looking out for the bottom line of the oil industry. I’m looking out for the health and welfare of my community.”

The council tabled the ordinance to bring oil and gas experts to the table, but negotiation is not guaranteed.

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