MONTEREY — Two more lawsuits have been filed against Monterey County this month challenging the voter-approved Measure Z, banning oil companies from fracking and other practices deemed a danger to ground and surface water.
On March 3 California Resources Corporation filed a writ of mandate and complaint for injunctive relief against the county, seeking a halt to any enforcement of Measure Z. Then, on March 13, the National Association of Royalty Owners of California, along with dozens of individuals and family-owned oil interests, filed a similar suit.
Both were filed in Monterey Superior Court. They both follow two suits filed by Chevron, Key Energy Services, Ensign United States Drilling and San Ardo Elementary School District in December. All four suits involve mineral regarding the San Ardo Field in south Monterey County, about 30 miles north of Paso Robles.
In December, Monterey County Counsel Charles McKee said he’d expected lawsuits, and noted their probability while writing the analysis of Measure Z that appeared in the voters’ guide.
“We knew about the potential for lawsuits as soon as Measure Z qualified for the ballot and we intend to defend it vigorously,” McKee said. “If a measure is valid on its face, and as far as we can tell this is, then we have an obligation to defend it.”
The San Ardo Field was discovered in 1947. It is the 13th largest oil field in California and the 46th largest in the United States. The oil is “heavy” and has the consistency of ketchup, but by injecting steam it is heated and extracted more easily.
Chevron is the largest operator on the 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.
Measure Z, presented to voters as a ban on fracking and risky oil operations to protect the region’s water, passed with 56 percent approval on Nov. 8. It amends Monterey County’s land use plans to prohibit fracking and other procedures deemed a danger to groundwater. It also prohibits drilling new oil and gas wells.
Because of the lawsuits, most of Measure Z has been put on hold. Language in the initiative puts a stay on most prohibitions until a settlement is reached or the issue is decided in court, McKee said. Those affected may be exempt from the rules if they can show the measure results in an unconstitutional taking, as the plaintiffs in all four suits contend.
Among the plaintiffs in the March 13 suit are many members of the Chisum, Duflock, Orrarde, Aurignac and Rosenberg families.