By Aaron Cantu
South Belridge Oil Field, near Lost Hills. (All photos by Aaron Cantú.) Jesus Alonso still recalls the terrible rotten egg smell he’d whiff on his way to school in Lamont, California, immediately downwind from a large oil refinery and within a few miles of the Mountain View Oil Field.
The release of toxic emissions and flammable gasses from such industrial operations have been linked to health problems elsewhere for those living nearby. “You can smell it well before you reach the school,” recounts Alonso, now an organizer with Clean Water Action.
“Growing up, I thought that this was just all normal—but getting used to that oil and gas smell isn’t normal. Having headaches, nosebleeds, very dry skin, high rates of asthma, all of that is not normal.” A proposed ordinance would allow Kern County to approve thousands of wells per year on 2.3 million acres of unincorporated land without public hearings, while circumventing the state’s legally mandated review of individual wells.
Across Kern County, where Alonso works, there are nearly 300,000 people within a mile of a well; analysis by environmental justice advocates indicates three quarters of those most at risk for pollution-related health issues are people of color. […]