Monterey County’s fracking ban stands, but voters won’t be getting all they hoped for when they passed Measure Z last year. Late Thursday, Monterey County Superior Court Judge Thomas Wills issued a split decision on the ballot measure.
It ended up in court after oil companies sued, saying Measure Z would shut down Monterey County’s oil production industry.
KAZU’s Erika Mahoney sat in on the trial and has gone over the judge’s decision, and spoke with KAZU's Krista Almanzan.
KA: What exactly did Judge Wills decide?
EM: Judge Wills said the voter approved ban on fracking stands, at least for now. He said the oil companies and royalty owners who sued Monterey County can’t argue against a fracking ban because fracking doesn’t currently happen in Monterey County. But Measure Z went beyond a fracking ban. Voters also approved a ban on drilling new wells and a phase out of injecting oil production wastewater back into the ground. He sided with the oil companies and royalty owners on that one because he said Measure Z is preempted by state and federal law. For example, California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources is already in charge of regulating those oil and gas production techniques. So really, with this decision, nothing will change for the oil companies operating in southern Monterey County.
KA: Remind us, how did Measure Z end up in court in the first place?
EM: Soon after Monterey County voters passed Measure Z in November of 2016, Chevron and Aera Energy along with some smaller oil companies and royalty owners filed lawsuits; 6 lawsuits in total. They argued, in part, that Measure Z is unconstitutional because it took away people’s property rights. They also said Measure Z would shut down the county’s oil industry. Monterey County is the 4th largest oil-producing county in the state; much of that coming from San Ardo field, which is in southern Monterey County. The trial that led to this decision took place about a month and a half ago and lasted four days.
KA: So is this the end of the fight over Measure Z?
EM: No, this is not the end. Protect Monterey County, the grassroots group which sponsored Measure Z, will appeal the court’s decision. I spoke with attorney Kassie Siegel on the phone. She’s part of Protect Monterey County’s legal team and says they’re committed to defending Measure Z even if it’s a long road. Here’s more from Kassie Siegel. “We’re very happy that the fracking ban remains in place. We’re disappointed that Measure Z wasn’t upheld in full. We appreciate all the time that the court put into the trial and the decision but we respectfully disagree with the outcome. And we are very optimistic that on appeal Measure z will be upheld in full,” Siegel says.
I also reached Kathy Miller by phone. She’s Aera Energy’s Public Affairs Coordinator in Monterey County. She says she’s not surprised there will be an appeal. Here’s Kathy Miller. “It’s unfortunate for the residents of Monterey County who will end up paying still millions of dollars in legal costs. And we’ve maintained since the beginning that Measure Z would have some extremely unfortunate and probably unintended consequences for the county and its residents and taking someone’s private property without compensation, which is what Measure Z does clearly violates the state and federal constitutions,” Miller says.
Protect Monterey County is working on its appeal now. That will go to the appellate court for the Monterey County region, which is up in San Jose.