On July 17, the Arvin City Council voted in support of an ordinance that will create expanded buffer zones between new oil and gas operations and sensitive-use locations such as homes, parks, schools and hospitals. The decision represented only part of the decade-long work by the community and organizations that advocate for environmental justice in Kern County. The grassroots victory reflects the power that community has to create true systems change, and how a community science project helped lead to one of the most important victories in Arvin to protect public health. The network of partners in Arvin that made this happen included the people of Arvin, Committee for a Better Arvin, Center for Race, Poverty & the Environment, the Central California Environmental Justice Network and others.
Central California Environmental Justice Network’s (CCEJN) involvement with the residents of Arvin to protect them from the negative health impacts of the oil and gas industry dates back to 2014. In March 2014, CCEJN, through its community reporting platform IVAN KERN, received a report from an Arvin resident suspecting there was an oil and gas leak in the neighborhood of Nelson Court near Arvin High School. CCEJN staff member Gustavo Aguirre Jr. took an air sample and verified there was a leak. Half of the residents in the Nelson Court area were evacuated after being told there were explosive levels of gas in their homes.
The Nelson Court incident prompted some Arvin residents to become engaged in citizen science projects that CCEJN launched in an effort to empower the community with the scientific data they needed to prove that having oil wells and storage tanks near their homes, schools and parks was affecting their health. For four years, CCEJN has been training Arvin residents how to collect bucket samples that measure volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other carcinogenic chemicals, such as benzene. CCEJN has engaged residents in the process of installing real-time monitors and understanding what the data means to their health.
Armed with this data, Arvin residents in the past year have approached their local elected officials multiple times, asking them to take action and pass a new oil and gas ordinance. CCEJN presented data to the Arvin City Council in May 2018, and organized a tour of Arvin in June for residents and other allies in Kern County and from across the state to see firsthand where the monitors are located and how close oil wells and storage tanks are from schools, homes and parks.
It took years of collective work to accomplish this victory, including community reporting, community data collection and advocacy for air quality. It took the people of Arvin to stand up and say, “We have the power to create change and our own narrative for future generations.”
Read a July 18, 2018, article in the Bakersfield Californian.