Aera appeals state's fracking permit denial

·2 min read

Jul. 22—Aera Energy LLC has filed a 59-page appeal of the state's high-profile decision July 8 to deny the company permission to perform 21 fracking jobs on oil wells in western Kern.

In a document dated Friday and prepared by the Los Angeles law firm of Alston & Bird, the Bakersfield-based oil producer called the state action a "de facto moratorium" and asserted the denial was "unlawful, violates numerous statutory duties, and impairs Aera's rights under the federal and state constitutions."

"Notably, technical staff within CalGEM (the state's primary oil regulatory agency, the state Geologic Energy Management division) already recommended the issuance of these (fracking) permits, and several agencies, including the Water Board and California Air Resources Board, have reviewed these applications and found no technical reason to object to the issuance of these permits."

The company said in an emailed statement its permit applications met the agency's technical requirements and complied with all laws and regulations regarding fracking in the state.

"We were left with no other choice than to file an appeal to protect the jobs of the thousands of people who are counting on us to produce reliable, affordable energy safely and responsibly for the people of California," the company said in an emailed statement Thursday.

Area added it will "continue to evaluate all available legal options to ensure the preservation of the (fracking) ... process as currently allowed by state law."

The permit denial by State Oil and Gas Supervisor Uduak-Joe Ntuk was seen as unprecedented because, after years of increasingly tight regulatory oversight of the controversial oilfield well-completion technique, Ntuk did not point to deficiencies in Aera's application. Rather, he told Aera he was exercising his discretion to deny the application out of concern for climate change and to protect health, safety, natural resources and the environment.

Ntuk's decision followed an order earlier this year by Gov. Gavin Newsom to begin a rule-making process banning fracking starting Jan. 1, 2024. The governor had asked the state Legislature last fall to send him a bill to accomplish the same thing, but the legislation that came of it failed in committee.

Industry officials and Kern County politicians have criticized the permit denials as premature and likely to increase California's reliance on imported oil. But environmental organizations applauded the move because of worries fracking threatens groundwater and air quality while also promoting climate change.

Fracking is also known as hydraulic fracturing. It injects water, sand and small concentrations of sometimes toxic chemicals deep underground to break open underground oil and gas deposits. It is used more frequently in Kern than anywhere else in the state.

CalGEM, the state agency Ntuk heads, declined to comment Thursday on Aera's appeal. But it noted there have been no notices of appeal filed in response to the agency's previous fracking-permit denials, 54 of which were handed to Chevron and three to Aera.

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