Decision on Monterey Co. Fracking Initiative Lawsuit Expected

A Monterey County judge is considering a ruling on an oil industry legal challenge to Measure Z, the Monterey County anti-fracking initiative.
Monterey Superior Court Ext.jpg

A Monterey County Superior Court Judge is expected to rule soon on the first phase of a legal challenge to Measure Z, Monterey County's voter-approved initiative establishing oil and gas restrictions.

Judge Thomas Wills heard final arguments in the case on Nov. 16. The trial began on Nov. l3. Several lawsuits against Measure Z were consolidated.

Attorneys for Chevron, Aera Energy and property and mineral rights holders sued the county after the November 2016 election. Their lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of Measure Z, which passed by a margin of 56 percent to 43.93 percent.

A similar initiative, Measure J, was passed previously by San Benito County voters in the 2014 election. BenitoLink Story: Anti-fracking Measure J wins by double digits. The final result was 58.9 percent for and 41.1 percent against.

The judge’s ruling is expected to have an impact on other California counties, including San Benito. It will set a precedent on anti-fracking initiatives that have passed or may be passed in the future.

Attorneys for the oil companies argued that Measure Z is preempted by federal and state authority. They referenced DOGGR, or California Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. 

Monterey County attorneys claim Measure Z allows some well stimulation treatments as long as they don’t exceed the number of oil wells allowed. They argued that the county has authority over land use issues affecting underground operations without regulating them.

The group Protect Monterey County intervened in the case.

The judge’s ruling is likely to be the first of many on Measure Z, as the case challenging the initiative makes its way through the court system. However Judge Wills rules, appeals are expected.

“We believe this case is very important because it is the first time that a citizen-led Measure has been challenged for pre-emption and taking,” said royalty owner Walt Duflock. “The outcome of this case will have a big impact on how the energy producers can produce in the state and how the environmental groups are likely to try further Measures in other counties.

“This case,” Duflock continued, “will have a lot to say about how the next set of activities between the corporate environmental groups like Center for Biological Diversity are able to step into local county elections and pass measures that could have a significant negative economic impact.”

Aromas resident, Andy Hsia-Coron of Protect Monterey County said of the pending ruling:

“We really don’t know a lot until he (the judge) renders his verdict. We believe Measure Z is based solidly in California case law regarding the ability of cities and counties to make decisions on industrial activities … on the land that they have control over. … Most people believe, regardless of what the judge’s decision is, it’s likely to be appealed,” Hsia-Coron said.

On Dec. 5, the Monterey County Board of Supervisors will consider a proposed process for allowing oil interests and other parties involved in the San Ardo oil fields in south Monterey County to claim exemptions from Measure Z’s restrictions.

Thomas Leyde