Two separate lawsuits were filed Wednesday challenging Measure Z, an initiative passed by Monterey County voters on Nov. 8 that bans hydraulic fracturing and limits future oil production in the county.
Both suits seek a court order setting aside the popular vote on the premise that Measure Z violates both state and federal laws regarding property rights. The first suit was filed by Aera Energy LLC, which leases mineral rights for more than 2,500 acres in the San Ardo Field in south Monterey County. The San Ardo Field is the 13th largest oil field in California, according to the complaint, and the 46th largest in the United States.
The second suit was filed by Chevron, Key Energy Services LLC, U.S. Drilling Inc., San Ardo Union Elementary District and several individuals. It terms the new rules set by Measure Z as arbitrary, irrational, vague and discretionary, taking private property for public use in violation of the 14th Amendment, as well as California’s constitution.
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.
According to Chevron’s lawsuit, the San Ardo Field was discovered in 1947. Chevron is the largest operator on the site, producing about 11,000 barrels of oil per day. The oil is “heavy” and has the consistency of ketchup, but by injecting steam, the oil is heated and can be extracted more easily. An oil well at the San Ardo Field typically draws up about 10 to 20 times as much water as oil. The water is drawn out so that the steam works more effectively.
In 2006, according to the suit, Chevron built a reverse osmosis facility to purify 45,000 barrels of water a day. About 75 percent of the water is purified and sent to recharge basins, where it slowly drains back into the aquifer. The remaining water is pumped deep underground.
Both lawsuits were filed in Monterey Superior Court. None of the parties could yet be reached for comment.