Fracking hurts Kern County. What will it take to prove it? | The role of science in the fight for residents’ health and environment


Photo of an oil field in McKittrick, Kern County, entitled ‘What hell must look like[1]        Source: Ben Klocek (CC by 2.0)

Rosario Garcia, a resident of the city of Shafter, Kern County, has had great trouble breathing for the last few years.[2] He contracted Valley Fever, a disease triggered by fungi in the soil that get stirred into the air by activities that disrupt the soil, like farming, construction, and oil extraction. Garcia adds that two of his close friends died from Valley Fever. He attributes the prevalence of the disease within his community to the impacts of an unconventional oil and gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking)[3], which industries practice throughout Kern County.

Garcia’s son Miguel, 9 years old, contracted asthma. Miguel says, “When I have asthma, my chest hurts, I have headaches. It feels like if my heart was hurting but it’s actually my chest, and then I feel like if I was going to die. I have to not play around with dirt, not be outside, and stay housy. I get mad because I can’t play outside with my friends.”[4]  The pattern is clear to residents; a lot of people are getting sick.

Juan Flores of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment illustrates this community’s first experiences with the health impacts of fracking: “Last year, when we had the grand opening of the [community] garden, we noticed they were putting those pumps up, that there was some drilling was going on. The smells could be so bad that it could actually hurt you. You could get headaches, be dizzy, get nauseous. So that’s when we got all into getting to know more about fracking, and getting community members educated.”[5]

In 2014, Rodrigo Romo and Anabel Marquez, community activists from Shafter, addressed a letter to Governor Jerry Brown of California, writing, “We are the ones living with fracking every day…We can see wells surrounding our elementary schools, our churches, our farms and our homes…Those we care about are beginning to suffer from headaches, nosebleeds, rare cancers and respiratory diseases associated with oil drilling and extraction.”[6] They invited Governor Brown to visit Shafter, so he might come to understand their suffering and put a stop to fracking. Governor Brown ignored the request.


                    The gas flare in an oil field just north of Shafter, Kern County[7]              Source: Michael Fagans/The Californian

On top of contaminating the air and water, fracking wells torment nearby residents psychologically. When Vintage Petroleum began extracting oil across the street from the home of Shafter residents Walt and Marilee Desatoff, conditions became unlivable. Walt cited the jet-engine roar and bright blaze generated during weeks of nonstop flaring (burning off of waste gases) as the most bothersome. He explained, “The first few hours it’s not so bad. But after a day, it starts really getting on your psyche and your sense of sanity.”[8] Marilee adds, “We could not have family over anymore. We could not sleep at night because we would hear this noise and that became a stressful situation for us.”[9] When Vintage offered to buy the couple’s property, the Desatoffs surrendered. Marilee felt heartbroken about leaving the home that once belonged to her grandparents, but she “couldn’t deal with the pain anymore.”[10]

In a complaint filed against Governor Brown and the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources, Rodrigo Romo alleged that his two daughters suffer from psychological distress and fear for their health because stimulated hydraulic fracturing wells operate in close proximity to their public schools in Kern County.[11] Juan Flores reported from his hometown of Delano, CA that residents fear the fracking industry’s practice of injecting wastewater into unlined pits is contaminating their sources of drinking water: “No one from this community will drink from the water from out of their well. The people are worried. They’re scared.”[12]

A University of Pittsburgh public health study provides evidence that stress is common around fracking operations. Researchers documented the self-reported health concerns of Pennsylvania residents living near fracked wells.[13] While participants cited a range of impacts, including rashes, sore throats, shortness of breath, nausea, and headaches, the most commonly reported impact was psychological stress; seventy-six percent of participants reported experiences of stress from living near drilling activity. Whether or not the physical conditions were due to direct exposure to chemical pollutants, stress itself can cause serious, physical health complications.[14]

Dismissing the claims of fenceline communities

Industry advocates such as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) frequently dismiss the claims of community members and activists regarding the danger of fracking, asserting that oil and gas operators have employed unconventional extraction methods for more than 60 years. [15] Their reasoning implies that because fracking has not caused any major disasters over those decades, current concern is unwarranted or even irrational.

The WSPA also respond to Kern County residents’ claims of environmental harm through denial of impacts. Representatives of the oil industry often site a report by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) for vindication. The California Natural Resources Agency commissioned CCST to conduct an independent assessment of existing scientific information on hydraulic fracturing.[16] Researchers reported: “Direct impacts of hydraulic fracturing appear small but have not been investigated. Significant gaps and inconsistencies exist in available voluntary and mandatory data sources,” which “limit assessment of the impacts of hydraulic fracturing.”[17]

The WSPA selects pieces of the CCST conclusion to repeat while omitting others, stating “During the decades it has been used, hydraulic fracturing has never been shown to adversely impact the state’s environment, drinking water supply or pose any risk to nearby residents. In fact, to date there has not been a documented case of fluids used in fracturing operations entering a drinking water aquifer.”[18] The WSPA does not mention that fracking in California maintains its supposedly clean track record in the context of weak or nonexistent monitoring. Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working group explains that before reporting began on in 2011, fracking operated “…for five decades with basically no oversight. People could have pollution in their groundwater and we would have no idea.”[19] The WSPA’s claims of innocence also indicate that in its eyes, residents’ lived experiences do not constitute ‘documented cases’ of adverse impacts.

The rhetoric of Governor Jerry Brown and his administration at times sounds shockingly similar to that of the oil and gas industry. Activist Brenna Norton reported that after telling Governor Brown that she works with people who have become sick from fracking operations in Los Angeles, Brown countered, “That’s not true. Fracking can be done safely and has been happening [in California] for 60 years.”[20] The chief deputy director of the California Department of Conservation wrote, “We have no direct evidence that any harm has been caused by the practice in California. We believe the regulations we’ve created, atop existing well construction standards, will protect the environment.”[21] It seems the administration’s definition of what constitutes ‘direct evidence’ excludes the experiences of the community members most affected by fracking.


Activists express opposition to fracking while Governor Brown delivers a speech in 2014  Source: Jae C. Hong[22]

After audience members shouted “Ban fracking!” during Governor Brown’s speech at the California Democratic Party’s convention in 2014, Brown countered that California is leading the way on addressing climate change, and stressed that the solution rests not with changing “one thing” (fracking), but “a whole series of things.”[23] By considering only the global impacts of fracking, such a response discounts the bodily and environmental harms that oil and gas extraction inflicts on fenceline communities.

The confusion of cumulative impacts

Fracking continues to operate under weak state and federal regulations. How do government officials ignore community members’ accounts of suffering, palpable evidence of personal harm? For one, these communities bear the weight of multiple layers of environmental harm, making it difficult for residents to tease out the impacts of new fracking wells alone. The air quality in Kern County ranks amongst the worst in the United States. Kern is number five in a list of the most ozone-polluted US counties, number two in a list of US counties most at risk of short-term particle pollution, and number two for year-round particle pollution.[24] Asthma rates in the southern tip of the San Joaquin Valley are triple the national average, and chronic pulmonary disease, cancer, and Parkinson’s disease is overrepresented in the population.[25]

Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum (CIPA) took advantage of the presence of multiple pollutants when he described Kern County as, “…a nonattainment area, not just because of oil and gas but because of automobiles and all kinds of other industries. There’s no way to know whether we are the source of whatever they found, if they found anything.”[26] One might hope that the presence of multiple sources of environmental harm would not excuse inaction on the part of the government and industry, but rather motivate stricter fracking regulations to protect an already overburdened community.

Documenting pollution

Despite the challenge of cumulative impacts, residents in Kern County document fracking-generated pollution, in order to support claims that fracking is indeed damaging their mental and physical health, their soil, their water, their air.  One afternoon in 2013, community activist Tom Frantz videotaped an oily, brown mixture followed by a sudsy-looking liquid flowing into an open, unlined Vintage Petroleum pit in Shafter. [27]

Frantz’s actions yielded results. In response to his video, the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board launched an investigation into the company’s waste pits.[28] Vintage only had permission to discharge drilling muds and boring wastes into the pit, yet the Board found that operators illegally dumped 126-168 gallons of fracking fluids, containing a stew of chemicals such as benzene (a carcinogen), boron, salts, and a stew of other chemicals.[29] Vintage agreed to pay a maximum fine of $60,000 for their water quality violations, marking the first time California fined a company for an action in the process of fracking.[30]

Residents in Shafter are concerned about constant flaring at a fracking site immediately upwind of a school and community garden. In December of 2014, they collected an air sample from the site using the Bucket, a piece of monitoring equipment courtesy of the Global Community Monitor organization.[31] The Bucket uses a pump system to gather a few liters of air into a lined bag. The sample is then sent to a certified laboratory, where it is tested for over 70 Volatile Organic Compounds and 20 sulfur-containing compounds.[32]

An analysis of the Shafter sample detected the presence of several toxic chemicals, including toluene.[33] A study launched by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce reported toluene as present in 29 hydraulic fracturing products used by oil and gas service companies between 2005 and 2009.[34] Chronic exposure to toluene, both regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act for its risk to human health and included as a hazardous air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, can damage the nervous system, liver, and kidneys.[35] The sample also contained methane at 2.7 ppm, a concentration higher than normal background levels. Elevated methane levels occur frequently near fracking wells.[36] It seems that this instance of community science has fallen on deaf ears; no online news sources, government reports, or industry communications mention the air sample’s toxic contents.

Kern County resident and Clean Water Action community organizer Rosanna Esparza collected health surveys of residents and their children in the town Lost Hills.[37] In the Lost Hills Oilfield, adjacent to the town, at least 244 wells have been fracked. A January 2015 joint report from the Clean Water Fund and Earthworks included her findings.[38] In Lost Hills, 92.3 percent of residents surveyed reported smelling odors in their homes and community, which some described as petroleum, burning oil, or rotten eggs. Symptoms experienced while the odors were present included headaches, nausea, dizziness, burning or watery eyes, and throat and nose irritation.[39] While this report received attention in news sources like The Bakersfield Californian, Rock Zierman of CIPA was quick to dismiss its findings, pointing to environmental impact reports from other areas that came to different conclusions, “based on real science.”[40]

Intended audiences have treated the community’s work with disrespect. Nonetheless, these examples of dedicated citizen science demonstrate that Kern County residents will not accept a position as passive victims of environmental injustice.


Community organizer Rosanna Esparza with a Lost Hill Health Survey participant         Source: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking[41]


[1] Ben Klocek, “What hell must look like,” Flickr, Feb. 10, 2008,
[2] Mark Hertsgaard, “If Jerry Brown is So Green, Why Is He Allowing Fracking in California?” The Nation, June 18, 2014,
[3] Lisa Morehouse, “Fracking California: The view from Kern County,” KALW Local Public Radio, June 16, 2014,
[4] Ibid [3].
[5]  Ibid [3].
[6] Rodrigo Romo and Anabel Marquez, “Letter to Governor Jerry Brown,” Center on Race, Poverty, & the Environment, 2014,
[7] Michael Fagans, “A gas flare towers over a two-sided fence at an oil field north of Shafter on Merced Avenue on Tuesday night,” The Bakersfield Californian, Sep. 1, 2023,
[8] Knudson, Tom, “Fracking near Shafter raises questions about drilling practices,” Merced Sun Star, June 30, 2013,
[9] NRDCflix, A Home Surrendered (NRDC), YouTube video, 4:28, September 9, 2014,
[10] Ibid [8].
[11] Rodrigo Romo v. Edmund G. Brown, Division of Oil Gas & Geothermal Resources, Steven Bohlen: Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief, 1 (S.C. CA 2015).
[12] Stephen Stock, Liza Meak, Mark Villarreal, and Scott Pham, “Waste Water from Oil Fracking Injected into Clean Aquifers,” NBC Bay Area, November 14, 2014,
[13] Kyle J. Ferrar, Jill Kriesky, Charles L. Christen, Lynne P. Marshall, Samantha L. Malone, Ravi K. Sharma, Drew R. Michanowicz, and Bernard D. Goldstein. “Assessment and longitudinal analysis of health impacts and stressors perceived to result from unconventional shale gas development in the Marcellus Shale region.” International journal of occupational and environmental health 19, no. 2 (2013): 104-112.
[14] University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences, “Many stressors associated with fracking due to perceived lack of trust,” ScienceDaily, April 29, 2013, <>.
[15] WSPA, “Hydraulic Fracturing,” WSPA, 2013,
[16] CCST, “Well Stimulation in California,” CCST, October 15, 2015,
[17] Jane C.S. Long, Jens T. Birkholzer, Laura C. Feinstein, “An Independent Scientific Assessment of Well Stimulation in California: Summary Report,” CCST, July, 2015,
[18] Ibid [15].
[19] Ibid [8].
[20] Brenna Norton, “Dear Governor Brown: On Fracking, It’s Time to Get Your Head Out of the Clouds,”, January 15, 2014,
[21] Juliet Williams, “Gov. Jerry Brown Clashes With Environmentalists: No Evidence Fracking Has Harmed California,” TPM News, February 6, 2015,
[22] Juliet Williams, “Fracking puts California governor, environmentalists at odds,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 6, 2015,
[23], Gov. Jerry Brown 2014 CADEM Convention (CADEM), YouTube video, 12:43, March 8, 2014,
[24] American Lung Association, “State of the Air 2015,” American Lung Association National Headquarters, Chicago, IL, 2015, http://www. stateoftheair. org/2009/states/wisconsin.
[25] Rosanna Esparza, “Wearing a respirator in Bakersfield—where the town motto is “life as it should be,” Clean Water Action, February 23, 2016,
[26] Courtenay Edelhart, “Environmental group says oil and gas industry hurts air quality,” The Bakersfield Californian, January 22, 2015,
[27] Ibid [8].
[28] Ibid [8].
[29] Mark Grossi, “Fracking probe expands in Central Valley,” The Fresno Bee, Nov. 2, 2013,
[30] Allen Martin, “Oil Company Caught Illegally Dumping Fracking Discharge In Central Valley,” CBS SF Bay Area, Nov. 26, 2013,
[31] Global Community Monitor, “Fracking without Adequate Regulation even in Environmentally Friendly California”, Air Hugger, Jan. 15, 2014,
[32] Global Community Monitor, “Community Monitoring Tool Kit,”,
[33]  Ibid [31].
[34] United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce, “Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing,”, April, 2011.
[35] Ibid [34].
[36]  Ibid [31].
[37] Tara Lohan, “Rosanna Esparza,” Faces of Fracking, 2014,
[38] Jhon Arbelaez and Bruce Baizel, CALIFORNIANS AT RISK: An Analysis of Health Threats from Oil and Gas Pollution in Two Communities,”, January, 2015,
[39] Ibid [38].
[40] Ibid [26].
[41] Ibid [37].

Kern County, California: Where Big Oil, dirty air, and a tenacious community converge



Kern River Oil Field.[1]

1.    Kern County: Where residents and their allies act in defiance

It’s February 7, 2015. Twenty-one buses ferry activists from points across the state of California to the Bay Area.[2] Their destination: Oakland’s City Hall. Starting outside City Hall, 8,000 students, representatives of labor unions, members of environmental justice groups, and health advocates walk the streets of downtown Oakland towards Lake Merritt, hoisting colorful signs, playing music, and chanting.[3]

Later that year, in July, Rodrigo Romo sues California Governor Jerry Brown and the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources. Romo fights for his two daughters, seeking to eliminate the source of their severe asthma and epileptic attacks.[4]

On November 6, 2015, Javier Cruz wears a poster around his neck, sitting in a lawn chair outside the Kern County Board of Supervisors building in Bakersfield, CA. Black words across neon orange paper insist “No Fracking in my HOME!” Cruz and his fellow community members recently embarked on a four-day fast to protect their dignity and their children’s future.

Activists march, Romo fights, and Cruz fasts to put an end to the hydraulic fracturing and oil extraction in Kern County that jeopardizes residents’ health and their environment. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is a process used to release and extract oil or natural gas from reservoirs with low permeability and porosity. Developers blast large volumes of water mixed with sand and a slew of toxic chemicals deep underground in order to fracture the rock.[5] To understand what motivated Romo, Cruz, and the 8,000 activists protest against fracking, let’s rewind five years to 2011.

2. Kern County: Where bureaucrats fail to protect their constituents

Derek Chernow once served as the former acting director of California’s Department of Conservation. Chernow claimed in court that back in 2011, Governor Jerry Brown ordered him and then-State Oil and Gas Supervisor Elena Miller to fast-track permits for risky oil and natural gas extraction, bypassing substantial environmental reviews required under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act.[6] Chernow and Miller refused. The next day, Brown fired both. Fracking activity in the state then grew rapidly; Governor Brown reported six months later, “I fired them, and oil permits for drilling went up 18 percent.”[7]

In 2013, Governor Brown signed into law Senate Bill No. 4, the state’s first piece of legislation that directly regulates fracking activities.[8] However, the bill omits regulations that are key to ensuring public protection from environmental harm. For instance, Senate Bill No. 4 contains no setback clause governing the distance of new oil and gas wells from sensitive land use areas such as public schools, residences, farms, or orchards.[9] California’s fenceline communities need protection from fracking fumes, and Senate Bill No. 4 falls short.

More recent attempts to manage the impacts of fracking on California communities and the environment have crumbled under the pressure of groups such as the Western State Petroleum Association, California Independent Producers Association, and Independent Oil Producers Agency, often collectively referred to as ‘Big Oil.’ An unprecedented $22 million of oil lobby money flooded the state legislature in 2015.[10] Big Oil effectively gutted or defeated bills that the oil industry opposed.[11] For instance, it delayed or weakened key clean air legislation, like the emission targets of Senate Bill 32 and the clean energy goals of Senate Bill 350.[12]

On November 9, 2015, the Kern County Board of Supervisors dealt a further blow to their constituents. The Board unanimously voted to pass an oil and gas zoning amendment for the county, an initiative funded by oil industry groups[13] that approves up to 70,000 new wells en masse, under one environmental review. Those who drafted the zoning amendment claim that the associated environmental impact report thoroughly addresses the impacts of new oil and gas projects over the next quarter of a century, an impossible achievement.[14] This spatially and temporally broad review cannot provide the site-specific descriptions of projects and their expected impacts at the time of installation, which are fundamental to an informative, legally sufficient environmental impact report.[15] With the new amendment, oil and gas producers can now obtain a permit to drill new wells in as short as a week, without holding public hearings.[16]

3. Kern County: Where fracking wells churn out environmental injustice

Since the passage of Senate Bill No. 4, oil and natural gas producers placed 246 of the 249 new (reported) well stimulations within Kern County[17] (see maps below). Ninety-five percent of California’s fracking activity occurs within Kern County.[18] A fracking well imposes serious harm on its neighbors, made all the more worrisome because the full extent of the damage remains uncertain. Hydraulic fracturing releases a suite of pollutants into the air: methane, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compouds (VOCs), nitrogen oxides (NOx), fine particulate matter, and silica dust.[19] VOCs and NOx both add to ozone production, which itself produces smog and hurts people’s respiratory systems. Health effects associated with exposure to airborne toxins include mild to severe respiratory and neurological problems, cardiovascular damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, and premature mortality.[20]

The liquids used in hydraulic fracturing can be described as a “toxic soup of chemicals.”[21] Of 353 common constituents of fracking fluid: 75 percent have been found to affect the skin, eyes, respiratory systems and gastrointestinal systems; 40-50 percent can impact the kidneys, the central nervous system, the immune system, and the cardiovascular system; 37 percent are known endocrine disruptors; and 25 percent are associated with genetic mutations and cancer. The toxicity of this soup increases as it mixes underground with water that can contain heavy metals and radioactive materials. Between 10 and 80 percent of the fluid resurfaces after the extraction process. Volatile components evaporate into the air. This toxic soup has made its way into nearby surface water and groundwater,[22] as a result of malfunctions such as backflows at the well heads, well casing failures, or pipeline leaks.

Noise and light pollution linked to stimulated oil and gas wells is often extreme and prolonged. Trucks, generators, pumps, and drilling operations contribute to the clamor. Natural gas that is not captured is flared (burned off) at all hours of the day, generating an incessant roar and intense light. Health consequences of noise and light pollution include sleep disturbances, fatigue, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular issues.[23]



Racial dot map of Kern County, from the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia.[24]

Kern County residents already bear hardships from environmental pollution. The 839,631 residents of Kern County, 50 percent of which identify as Latino[25] (see dot map above), breathe contaminated air. The air quality in Kern places amongst the worst in the nation. The American Lung Association published a report in 2015 that ranked Kern County as number five in a list of the most ozone-polluted US counties, number two in a list of US counties most at risk of short-term particle pollution, and number two for year-round particle pollution.[26] A total of 63,430 active and new oil and gas wells dot Kern County, the epicenter of California’s fossil fuel industry. That’s almost 75 percent of all the state’s active and new wells.[27] In addition to leakage of benzene and methane from oil production, pesticides and exhaust from the agricultural industry make Kern County’s air quality poor. Kern County constitutes the southern portion of the San Joaquin Valley. In the Valley, asthma is technically an epidemic, with one in six children diagnosed with the disease before the age of 18.[28]

As fracking expands in California, Latino and African American communities in Kern County shoulder the greatest risk of adverse health impacts.[29] In 2014, the NRDC found that people of color make up almost 92 percent of the 1.8 million Californians living within a mile of oil and gas development in communities already grappling with heavily polluted air and water, as well as pesticide exposure. In Kern County, this number is 76 percent.[30] The county’s low-income, rural communities of color are “at the frontline” of new drilling technologies and the associated dangers of air pollutants, wastewater disposal, heavy diesel truck traffic, and wastewater disposal.[31] A 2014 study found that school campuses with a larger percentage of Latino and other students of color are more likely to be in close proximity to oil and gas wells. Furthermore, the great majority of students attending school within 1 mile of an oil or gas well are non-white (79. 6%), especially Latino (60.3%).[32]


New stimulation notices filed under Senate Bill No. 4. All but three of the mapped stimulations are located within Kern County.[33] Well stimulations, including hydraulic fracturing, are techniques that improve the flow of hydrocarbons into the well.[34]


New oil and gas wells filed under Senate Bill No. 4. Note the thickly concentrated well sites in Kern County.[35]

What would environmental justice look like, in contrast to the situation in Kern? The EPA defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies…It will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making…”[36] Kern County residents, and residents of color in particular, bear a magnitude of the externalities entirely out of proportion to their “fair share.”

The lack of sufficient fracking regulation in California, such as setback clauses, shatters any illusions of equal protection under environmental laws. Weak laws also stifle public participation in environmental decision-making processes. Attorney Madeline Stano of the Center on Race, Poverty, and the Environment explains that extraction companies and government officials are not required to provide notice to students, parents, teachers, or school officials when fracking will occur close to schools. Ordinances like the revised Kern County zoning law further exclude community members from the process of developing environmental laws, granting oil and gas producers permission to bypass public notice and hearings.[37]


A fracking well next to a playground at Sequoia Elementary School in Shafter, Kern County[38]

4. Kern County: Where community members and their allies refuse to keep quiet

On February 7, 2015, 8,000 Californians gathered in Oakland for the March for Real Climate Leadership, which shaped up to be the largest anti-fracking demonstration in U.S. history.[39] The activists demanded that their Governor lead efforts against climate change by discontinuing fracking activity in California.[40]

In July, 2015, Rodrigo Romo sued Governor Brown and the Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources on behalf of his daughters, stating that they had come down with severe asthma, and in one daughter’s case, epileptic attacks, ever since well stimulations began in close proximity to their public schools in Kern County. Romo claims that in omitting setback clauses, Senate Bill No. 4 violates the anti-discrimination provisions of California government code. The overseeing judge dismissed the case, but Romo will appeal his decision.[41]

In November, 2015, Kern County community members and supporters engaged in a four-day fast and a mid-day rally to protest a proposed oil and gas zoning amendment. The amendment would relax the oil and gas corporations’ responsibilities to provide thorough environmental reviews and public hearings before opening new wells.[42] After the Kern County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the zoning amendment, the Sierra Club and an alliance of community and conservation groups filed a lawsuit against Kern County, claiming that the amendment jeopardizes the health of hundreds of thousands of people living in Kern County.[43]

Kern County communities demand that those who claim to represent them actually consider their voices. Rodrigo Romo said, “…because we are Latinos or because we don’t speak English, [Governor Brown] thinks this will keep us quiet. But I don’t see this as a boundary for myself, nor will it keep me quiet.”[44]


[1] Hamish Reid, “The Kern River Oil Field,” In One California County’s Fracked Idea by Heather Kathryn Ross, Dec. 9, 2015,
[2] “March for Real Climate Leadership: That was incredible,” March for Climate Leadership, last modified March 18, 2016,
[3] Victoria Colliver, “Protesters march in Oakland, push for Jerry Brown to ban fracking,”SFGATE, February 7, 2015.
[4] Nick Cahill, “Battle Continues Against Fracking Near Schools,” Courthouse News Service, December 18, 2015,
[5] Californians Against Fracking, “Frequently Asked Questions,” Californians Against Fracking: The statewide coalition to ban fracking in California,                               Tanya Srebotnjak and Miria Rotkin-Ellman, “Drilling in California: Who’s at Risk?” National Resources Defense Council, October, 2014,
[6] Michael J. Mishak, “Brown ordered firing of regulator who took hard line on oil firms,” Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2012,
[7] Judith Lewis Mernit, “How The Oil Industry Got Two Regulators Fired For Doing Their Jobs,” Huffington Post, HuffPost Politics, July 2, 2015,
[8] Michael Murza, “Senate Bill 4: Past and Future look at regulating Hydraulic Fracturing In California,” California Environmental Law & Policy Center: UC Davis School of Law (June 2014): 1-66.
[9] Oil and gas: well stimulations, Senate Bill No. 4, California Legislative Information (2013-2014),
[10] American Lung Association in California, Oil Industry Lobbying in California: $22M in 2015, $127M over 10 years, February 2, 2016,
[11] Dan Bacher, “Kern County Residents Fast Against Plan to Fast Track Fracking,” Daily Kos, November 6, 2015,
[12] Ibid [11].
[13] Kern County Planning and Community Development Department, Staff Workshop Report: Revisions to the Kern County Zoning Ordinance — 2015 C, focused on Oil and Gas Local Permitting, July, 27, 2015,
[14] Elly Benson, “Kern County OKs Big Oil’s Request to Fast Track Drilling and Fracking for Decades,” The Planet, November 20, 2015,
[15] Yana Garcia, Elizabeth Forsyth, and William Rostov, “Comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report for Revisions to the Kern County Zoning Ordinance 2015(C) on behalf of Sierra Club and the NRDC,”, November 9, 2015,
[16] James Burger and John Cox, “Supervisors approve hard-fought oil and gas plan,” The Bakersfield Californian, November 9, 2015,
[17] Seyfort, Bunkey, Fracking Kern County, California ( and Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, in association with Project Survival Media), YouTube video, 4:33, May 22, 2014,
[18] Ibid [15].
[19] Ibid [6].
[20] Ibid [6].
[21] Ibid [6].
[22] Ibid [6].
[23] Ibid [6].
[24] Dustin Cable, “The Racial Dot Map: One Dot Per Person for the Entire United States,” Demographics Research Group, Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service, University of Virginia,
[25] Pew Research Center, “Kern County, California,” PewResearchCenter Hispanic Trends, Nov. 26, 2011, http://www.pewhispanicorg/states/county/6029/.
[26] American Lung Association, “State of the Air 2015,” American Lung Association National Headquarters, Chicago, IL, 2015, http://www. stateoftheair. org/2009/states/wisconsin.
[27] NRDC, “Fracking Threatens Health of Kern County Communities Already Overburdened with Pollution,” NRDC Fact Sheet 14-09-B, September 2014,
[28] Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies. “Place Matters for Health in the San Joaquin Valley: Ensuring Opportunities for Good Health for All,” Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, San Joaquin Valley Place Matters Team, March, 2012,
[29] Ibid [6].
[30] Ibid [6].
[31] Ibid [6].
[32] Kyle Ferrar, “Hydraulic Fracturing Stimulations and Oil Drilling Near California Schools and within School Districts Disproportionately Burdens Hispanic and Non-White Students,” The FracTracker Alliance, November 17, 2014,
[33] FrackTracker Alliance, “Oil & Gas Activity in California,”, January, 2016,
[34] Rodrigo Romo v. Edmund G. Brown, Division of Oil Gas & Geothermal Resources, Steven Bohlen: Complaint for Injunctive and Declaratory Relief, 1 (S.C. CA 2015).
[35] Ibid [34].
[36] EPA, “What is Environmental Justice,” Environmental Justice, EPA, Feb. 22, 2016,
[37] Ibid [16].
[38] Brooke Anderson, “Fracking well next to elementary school in Kern County,” In Call for action on key environmental policies that impact communities of color, California Environmental Justice Alliance, May 13, 2014,
[39] March for Climate Leadership, “Latest Press Release,” Media Room, March for Climate Leadership, Feb. 7, 2015,
[40] Ibid [45].
[41] Ibid [4].
[42] Ibid [15].
[43] Petitioners/Plaintiffs v. County of Kern: Verified Petition for Writ of Mandate and Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief, 3 (S.C. CA 2015).
[44] Ibid [30].