Oil future: Summit in Taft tackles challenges, changes

Oil future: Summit in Taft tackles challenges, changes »Play Video
TAFT, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Experts, lawmakers and oil executives took a hard look at Kern County's important petroleum industry in a first-ever summit at Taft College, hosted by the Taft College Foundation. The day-long event focused on changes and challenges like new technology and government regulation.

"We're really in the center of the oil business in California," veteran oil consultant Dave Kilpatrick said. "This is the biggest oil field in the San Joaquin Valley by far, and it's the home of some of the biggest discoveries."

The Friday conference drew 320 participants, according to College President Dr. Dena Maloney. Keynote speakers included former Shell Oil President John Hofmeister and Congressman Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

McCarthy discussed national energy policy and moderated a panel of state lawmakers. That included State Senator Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield. "The most important thing I'm hearing here today is we need to finish the regulations with DOGGR," she told Eyewitness News. "DOGGR" is the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, and their superintendent for oil and gas was also a conference participant.

Fuller says DOGGR hopes to have new regulations ready by next January, or she says, at least some of them. And, she says it's important the rules are based on science, not myth.

From the industry perspective, Kilpatrick says regulations need to be predictable and right. "If they're dumb regulations, we're going to have some real challenges to get the oil out of the ground that we can get in California," he said. "The challenges are that we have the toughest regulation environment in the United States." Kilpatrick says other oil-producing states have seen increased production and employment.

And while California's set to draw up more oil regulations, Kern County is also working on a new process. "We're attempting to streamline the permitting of oil and gas (drilling) so we can hopefully open these new fields," County Planning Director Lorelei Oviatt told Eyewitness News.

Oviatt said her department is working on a comprehensive environmental impact report and they hope to use zoning regulations to creation some "reasonable regulations." She said the EIR could be done by early next year and go to the Board of Supervisors by the end of 2014.

The planning director said she was at the conference to learn more, and said she wants to answer the public's questions. "How does hydraulic fracturing really work? Is it like the kinds of things that are happening in Pennsylvania and New York?"

The summit also included a presentation by the producer of a documentary called "FrackNation," Ann McElhinney. "A lot of the opposition here is celebrity-driven, it's irrational and it's not fact-based," she told Eyewitness News. The producer said she was there to talk about the myths about fracking, "Try to tell the truth about fracking, which a lot of people haven't done up until now," she added.

McElhinney said "fracking" has been done since 1947, and said one million wells have been fracked since then. She said the new technology is horizontal fracking. She also said the former Environmental Protection Agency director had testified under oath that she knows of no cases of water contamination caused by fracking.

Kilpatrick said the same about the EPA chief's comments. "There have been incidents rarely that have happened that have caused problems," he said about fracking. "And the companies have cleaned up and taken care of the problems." Kilpatrick stressed the process is "hydraulic fracturing stimulation" of oil wells.

Les Clark, from the Independent Oil Producers Agency, says that type of stimulation will help get more oil out, that's badly needed. "I think with the conventional methods we have, we're able to get out around 60- to 65 percent," he said. "Now with fracturing coming in, that gives us another supply."

The oil folks say that additional supply is vital to California's economy and creating more jobs.

College President Dr. Dena Maloney said that was the impetus for holding the summit on their campus, they want to help more students prepare for oil jobs. "We really want to better understand the industry needs," she said. "What do we need to know about the skills and preparation they need to have?"

Clark said regulation of fracking is just one of the challenges facing Kern's oil industry, but he hopes the rules coming down the pipe use common sense.

That's the way Sen. Fuller sees it, too. She said it's important for the oil industry to work with its neighbors and look for solutions. "So we can be sure we're preserving the safety, as well as the economic engine that runs Kern County."