Hydraulic Fracturing Operations to Resume in Monterey County: What’s Next?

The latest legal development with California’s anti-fracking saga shines a glimmer of hope on its future in local oil and natural gas extraction – but still highlights the need for more action to ensure its survival. On October 12, Justice Franklin Elia issued a unanimous panel decision that effectively revokes Monterey County’s ill-advised Measure Z initiative that banned all fracking methods in the jurisdiction.

As Justice Franklin Elia explained:

“[W]hen a statute or statutory scheme seeks to promote a certain activity and, at the same time, permits more stringent local regulation of that activity, local regulation cannot be used to completely ban the activity or otherwise frustrate the statute’s purpose.”

While the precedent set by this decision is increasingly important as the state attempts to ban fracking within its borders entirely, equally so is the non-oil and gas related impacts that were disregarded by the measure. As precedent now set in Monterey County shows that the California fracking bans may not necessarily succeed, however, the flip side indicates what the negative impacts of both Governor Newsom’s and other counties’ bans could look like statewide.

As Courthouse News Service reports:

“Chevron is the largest operator on the [Monterey County] site, producing about 11,000 barrels of oil per day. An oil well at the San Ardo Field typically draws about 10 to 20 times as much water as oil, and in 2006 Chevron built a reverse osmosis facility to purify 45,000 barrels of water a day. About 75 percent of the water is sent to recharge basins, where it slowly drains back into the aquifer through a series of constructed wetlands. The remaining water is concentrated brine and is pumped deep underground.”

The Monterey County decision is isolated, and similar rulings need to follow.

While the court decision is a near-term win for producers and economic beneficiaries in Monterey, the ongoing ban discussions across the state weigh heavy on California’s economic outlook. The state’s continued and increased dependence on foreign energy imports shows that despite measures to eliminate their oil and gas industry, they are far from reducing the state’s dependency on the resources.

Additionally, high-quality jobs and billions of public service dollars could be stripped from the GDP and funding if California’s oil and gas industry is shut down. As Courthouse News Service reports:

“Not all entities were in favor of the fracking ban, including the San Ardo Union Elementary School District, which collects proceeds from the oil extracted in the region and uses it to supplement its budget.”

This may not be the last we hear of Measure Z in particular – the measure was passed, struck down by courts, appealed by civil organizations and now, struck down yet again. At this point, the last remaining platform according to the appellate court will be for the anti-fracking coalition in Monterey County to bring the issue before the state legislature.

In the meantime, it’s a small victory for supporters of responsible development in Monterey County that have been opposing a fracking ban in their county for years.

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