Oildorado is an Old West themed festival that takes place every five years. Parade floats are decorated with derricks and pump jacks by high school students. The young women are competing in a beauty contest. For the past century, the local economy has been supported by an industry.

The state that leads the country in environmental regulation isoil country. California's governor wants to end oil drilling in the state by 2045 because of the state's recent fires and dry conditions. In Kern County, oil and gas tax revenues help to pay for everything from elementary schools to firefighters.

Ryan Alsop is the chief administrative officer in Kern County, which is north of Los Angeles. Tens of thousands of jobs are not the only ones. Hundreds of millions of dollars in annual tax revenue is what we rely on to fund our schools, parks, libraries and public safety.

Fossil fuels are used in dozens of states and communities across the United States. Fossil fuels make up more than half of Wyoming's tax revenue. Free college for New Mexico residents has been funded by the oil boom. It's hard to imagine a future without oil and gas money.

The fight against climate change is hampered by the disentangling of communities from fossil fuel income. The United States tax revenues from oil and gas production could fall by two-thirds by the year 2050 if nations follow the scientists' advice to cut emissions.

Kern County is the biggest supplier of wind and solar power in California. California exempts solar panels from property taxes in order to encourage construction. Jobs in the wind and solar industries tend to last less than those in the oil fields.

The governor is feuding with the county. The local officials who have tried to block the Governor's restrictions on drilling are now supporting a plan for up to 43,000 new wells.

If Kern County can transition to cleaner energy, it could be a model for the nation.

"California is about 10 years ahead of other places on climate policy, but I expect we'll see similar issues pop up across the U.S." The shift to clean energy can be difficult when you consider how much oil and gas is woven into the fabric of many communities.

ImageThe Midway-Sunset oil field surrounding Taft is California’s largest and most productive.
The Midway-Sunset oil field surrounding Taft is California’s largest and most productive.

The Midway-Sunset oil field, California's largest, was the site of a gusher in 1910 that rained millions of gallons of crude onto the ground.

Oil is defined by the city of Taft, which is surrounded by around 10,000 wells.

There is a statue of a derrick and a roustabout in the downtown area. Beer, guns, and Thai food are sold by the Black Gold Brewing Company. The West Kern Oil Museum has thousands of products derived from oil.

"We take a lot of pride in what we do here, in our contribution to America's energy security," said Dave Noerr as he drove his pickup truck through town. Our industry partners have been very generous to us.

Oil and gas taxes go to the parks and recreation centers. A new classroom and staff were hired by the local college with funding from the oil company. Millions of dollars in donations from oil companies support a popular high school program where students learn petroleum geology, fly drones and research topics like carbon dioxide recycling.

The future is uncertain because of the end of the boom years. Crude production from California's fields keeps declining even as oil prices go up. After decades of exploitation, the state's output peaked in 1985 and the remaining heavy oil requires sophisticated techniques.

State regulators have made it harder to obtain drilling permits, which has further depressed production. As California has suffered through record-breaking heat waves, the state has moved to slash greenhouse gases that result from burning oil, gas and coal.

Abigail Varela, left, and Emma Wooley, seniors at the Taft Union High School Oil Technology Academy. Oil money has helped to support local schools and colleges.
Sports teams at Bakersfield High School, about 30 miles northeast of Taft, are known as the Drillers.

The number of permits issued by state regulators to drill new wells or modify existing ones has fallen since the beginning of the year. Courts have blocked Kern County's attempts to take over permitting from the state and approve thousands of new wells.

The Midway-Sunset field contains steam pipes, power lines and pump jacks that pull oil from the ground.

The chairman of a small oil company who also runs a foundation giving college scholarships to local students said it was unusual how quiet it was right now. There would be a lot of activity if we were allowed to drill new wells. There isn't anything happening.

Kern County's finances are at risk due to the drilling slowdown. The oil and gas industry generated nearly one-quarter of the county's property tax revenue in 2020, which helps fund schools, hospitals, law enforcement, water agencies and other programs. Staffing reductions at fire stations and library closings have been made due to the swings in oil prices. The latest price spike has provided some relief, but officials say that as drilling declines, it will get harder to provide critical services in a county with a high poverty rate.

The problem is that crime rates are going up, homelessness is going up, and the cost of living is going up. Because of our unique position on oil and gas, our revenues are stagnant.

Local sales taxes were increased last year in order to patch up shortfalls in the budget.

Anabel Marquez of Shafter opposes more drilling. “The pollution is everywhere,” she said.
Dave Noerr, a former oil field worker and mayor of Taft since 2016. “We take a lot of pride in what we do here,” he said.

Mayor Noerr said that if the governor said no to new oil and gas, every part of the town would be hurt. Who is going to be hurt the most by all the social programs that won't get funding? The poor will be the group. It makes me angry.

Local officials say producers should be made available as gasoline prices go up. Electric cars still make up a fraction of the market in California, but they argue that the state still has a high appetite for oil. Half of the state's oil comes from foreign countries, including the Amazon rainforest.

In Kern County, where oil provides jobs and tax revenue, it makes sense to get every last drop of oil.

$65 million to support and retrain displaced oil and gas workers, $200 million to clean up abandoned wells, and $450 million to help communities diversify their economies are all proposed by the governor.

Alex Stack, a spokesman for the governor, said that California is moving aggressively to deploy clean energy and cut pollution. The administration has committed unprecedented funding to support the vision of regional leaders.

The Taft Oilworker Monument, dedicated during the city’s 2010 Oildorado festival.
A decorated storefront during Oildorado celebrations in May. The 10-day festival is held every five years.

Some people in Kern County don't want more drilling.

There are pump jacks in the town of Shafter. One of the wells can be seen from the playground. A parent filed a lawsuit against the state over pollution.

The valley of Kern County has some of the worst air pollution in the country. Smog forming compounds like sulfur oxides can be found in oil and gas. Living near active wells increases the risk of asthma, heart attacks and premature births according to a state health panel.

A Shafter resident said that the pollution is all over the place. It makes your eyes and throat dry.

She said her pleas to restrict drilling have fallen on their heads. She said that when people bring home checks from the oil industry it is not something that they usually stand against.

Economic concerns are the main concern in places like Taft. The population has been decreasing. There are vacancies on the main street. The federal prison closed two years ago.

Renee Hill grew up in the city and returned a decade ago with her husband to open an antique and flower shop in hopes of revitalizing the downtown area.

Ms. Hill said that oil supported everything. We don't have anything else if oil disappears. We are not going to get Amazon warehouses because we are close to the nearest highway. This isn't a place where tourists will come in large numbers. I wish there was more we could do.

Experts say oil and gas communities across the United States should start planning for a future without fossil fuels, or risk a fate similar to coal regions in Appalachia.

According to a recent study by Resources for the Future, a nonpartisan research group, 21 states produce significant amounts of oil, gas and coal. Wyoming gets 59 percent of state and local tax revenue from coal, oil and gas, followed by North Dakota at 31 percent and New Mexico at 15 percent. In-state revenue from fossil fuels is at least 7 percent of the total.

Daniel Raimi is a fellow at Resources for the Future. It's just as big a challenge in raw numerical terms.

40 percent of America's coal is mined in Wyoming, which has faced budget cuts due to the decline in coal power. State lawmakers have sought to prop up coal, passing laws that make it harder for utilities to close coal plants and threatening to lawsuit other states that hurt Wyoming's coal industry

Robert Godby is an economist at the University of Wyoming. It is possible that you will fall off if you are backed up against a cliff.

States that are receptive to climate action are in a bind. The legislature in New Mexico has been able to raise teacher salaries, provide free day care, and fund new health and criminal justice programs thanks to surging revenues.

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How much is inflation? Your dollar won't go as far tomorrow as it did today due to inflation. The change in prices for everyday goods and services is known as the annual change in prices.

Is there a cause for inflation? It could be due to increased consumer demand. There are developments that have little to do with economic conditions and can cause inflation to rise and fall.

I wonder if inflation is bad. It is dependent on the situation. Moderate price gains can lead to higher wages.

Inflation can affect the stock market. It's difficult for stocks to be affected by rapid inflation. Houses have held their value better than financial assets during inflation booms.

Legislation was signed by the governor that requires utilities to shift to carbon-free electricity by 2045 and provides money to coal communities that are hurt by plant retirements.

A major source of state revenue is oil and gas drilling on federal lands. Legislation to reduce the state's greenhouse gas emissions was put on hold.

Proposed laws aimed at oil and gas would take billions away from public education, and that's why the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association is campaigning against them. Reading programs, sports, and school lunches are all at risk.

Pappy’s Coffee Shop in Bakersfield is frequented by oil workers and decorated with a petroleum theme.
A little league baseball game on the edge of the Buena Vista Oil Field in Taft.

After cheap natural gas hurt the coal industry, experts say oil and gas communities should plan now. "You look at what happened to some of those coal communities and it's a terrifying scenario." said David Tuan, the city administrator of Williston, N.D.

Few places have been able to navigate the end of fossil fuel use. The town of Tonawanda lost millions of dollars in tax revenue because of the coal plant closing. The state legislature helped replace the funds and the town is now looking to develop its waterfront.

Some states can't afford to do what New York did, so the federal government may have to step in.

The legislation was introduced by Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado. The bill was written after he visited towns in Northwest Colorado where coal plant and mine shutdowns could reduce tax revenue in half.

This is a big problem for climate action. We haven't been able to give a persuasive vision of what an energy transition will look like to some of the communities that will be most affected

A wind farm near Tehachapi, Calif. Kern County has become California’s largest producer of wind and solar power.

Some of America's largest wind farms can be found in the mountains east of Taft. There are acres of solar panels in the desert.

Half of the state's wind power and 25% of its solar power comes from Kern County.

During their training to become electricians, former oil workers practiced bending conduit at the union office of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

After the last price crash, Richard left his job as an oil rigoperator. He was sick of the ups and downs. Everything seems to be going green. There is very little future in oil.

It is thought that renewable energy could be an alternative to fossil fuels. A quarter of U.S. counties have the greatest potential for wind and solar power, according to an analysis.

The transition isn't easy. Oil and gas has been one of the few industries where workers without college degrees can find high paying jobs. Many construction workers are needed for solar and wind farms. There were roughly 16,000 oil and gas jobs and 2,500 renewable energy jobs in the county in 2019.

Richard Romero, an apprentice with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers at the union’s training center in Bakersfield, worked in the oil industry for 11 years. “I got sick of the ups and downs,” he said.
Eddie Carmichael, a welder in the Midway-Sunset oil field, said he had been able to put his children through college thanks to income earned in the oil industry.

Eddie was working on steam pipes in the Midway-Sunset field. He put four children through college while working in oil. He wasn't sure if he could find similar work somewhere else.

He said that flipping burgers wouldn't do him any good. I don't think that will pay my health insurance.

Revenue concerns are included. In 2020, Kern County's solar farms generated just 1.5 million in property taxes, less than 1 percent of what fossil fuels did, partly because of the state tax exemption for solar panels.

A group of local leaders and businesses are talking about ways to make Kern County's economy more diversified.

Mercedes Macias, a senior organizer with the Sierra Club in Kern County, said that oil is ingrained in the culture of the area. It is not like anyone has step-by-step instructions for how to change an economy that is dependent on fossil fuels.