The day after formation of Kern Citizens for Energy was announced, a news writer wondered why anybody not invested in the oil or gas industry would want to become involved in the issue.
As a longtime resident of Kern County and a business owner, I can answer the reporter’s question with one of my own: In light of the fact that oil and gas company payrolls provide $4 billion a year for Kern County families, and 30 percent of all the property taxes to support local government and schools, who among our citizens is not involved?
While most of us as local residents are very familiar with the oil industry, many of those outside Kern are uninformed about the importance of petroleum products to our everyday lives and the perils of relying on foreign oil to provide fuel. We can benefit our community by rejecting fallacious arguments from outside pressure groups and embracing facts, science and careful analysis.
Just in the past couple of months, many people here have felt the jarring economic loss from an unexpected drop in worldwide oil prices. Now, as our county planning department takes the time to do the aforementioned scientific studies of all oil and gas activities in Kern County, we have an opportunity to let our voices be heard in that process. The professional activists — many of whom are committed to destroying the petroleum industry — are very engaged in this discussion.
Contrary to opposition group narratives, the industry is already regulated by the strictest standards in the nation, and Kern Citizens for Energy is committed to oil and gas produced in a safe and environmentally sound manner. After all, we are the ones who actually live and work here. We raise our families here. No one is more committed to the health and safety of our air, water and soil than the citizens of Kern County, and that includes the thousands of our neighbors who work in the oil and gas industry.
Everyone in Kern County, regardless of economic status, occupation, age or gender, is a stakeholder in the success of the oil and gas industry. And the stakes are enormous. Start with jobs. Countywide, the oil and gas industry accounts for more than 50,000 direct and indirect jobs, with a combined income topping $4 billion annually. Jobs lost in this industry, accounting for about 20 percent of the county’s annual gross domestic product, increase our unemployment rate and reduce the tax base to fund schools and public safety.
So what will you do to exercise your right and duty to protect our county’s future? We are all busy with our families, friends and businesses, so the simplest way is to go online to kerncitizensforenergy.com and add your name to the growing list of supporters of local energy production.
Beyond that, make time to attend one or more scheduled meetings and hearings on the issue. If you’re comfortable speaking in public, exercise that right. Even just showing up is important. The mere presence of concerned and involved citizens sends a powerful message. Yes, much of the discussion is technical. But the notion that government decisions are all for the hearing officers, technical experts and lawyers, and the common man or woman need not be heard, should not be acceptable.
Make no mistake: Kern County is on the frontlines of the battle over the future of oil and gas production, and this is not just a local issue. Oil and gas is under assault throughout the nation, even in states not known for their oil and gas resources. The outcome will involve much more than the prices and availability of gasoline and natural gas. Materials for much of what is made in America and rest of the world today are derived from petrochemicals. Toothpaste, cosmetics, computers, cellphones, medicines, synthetic fabrics, fertilizers and just about everything we touch in our modern lives got their start from oil and natural gas.
We are sitting on an exceptional resource that is vitally important to the economic health of our community. It’s time to take a stand, Kern County.
Greg Bynum is president of Gregory D. Bynum and Associates, Inc., a company specializing in real estate development, appraisal-analysis, consultation, property management and brokerage services in Bakersfield and surrounding areas. He is a member of the Leadership Committee for Kern Citizens for Energy.