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Inside The Courtroom Of The Measure Z Trial

Erika Mahoney
It's been a full courtroom since the trial started Monday.

Thursday PM Update: The first phase of the trial over Monterey County’s voter-approved fracking ban wrapped up Thursday afternoon.  Judge Thomas Wills has 90 days to make a decision.  

Oil companies and royalty owners filed multiple lawsuits against the county after Measure Z passed last November with 56% of the vote.  Beyond fracking, Measure Z also puts other limits on gas and oil operations. 

KAZU’s Krista Almanzan spoke with KAZU’s Erika Mahoney on Wednesday. Mahoney sat in on the trial. 

KA: Remind us what is Measure Z – it’s a ban on fracking but it goes beyond that?

EM: Yeah Measure Z goes beyond that. So first it phases out the disposal of wastewater from the oil production back into the ground and it all also bans the drilling of new wells and it also bans well stimulation techniques, which is actually what fracking falls under.

KA: What is this trial about?

EM: One of the fundamental questions in this trial is who has the right to regulate the oil and gas industry. The people behind Measure Z say for Monterey County is should be the local government because the people have spoken. They passed Measure Z last November. Those against Measure Z argue there’s already a regulatory agency in charge, California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources.

KA: The oil industry says Z effectively puts them out of business. The county disagrees. So can you explain why they interpret this measure differently.

EM: Attorneys for the county say Measure Z is not intended to end the oil and gas industry in Monterey County. Rather it’s to make sure it doesn’t grow, you know, keep it at its current footprint. And that’s something the organizers behind the measure also agree with. That’s Protect Monterey County. I spoke with Andy Hsia-Coron who is with Protect Monterey County just outside of the courtroom.

“Ultimately all over the world there’s going to be a turning down, a phasing back of petroleum operations because it’s having, we looked around this year and tremendous negative effects of the change in climate. So all over the world people are going to be probably ahead of their governments in saying why should we risk our water, risk our air, and risk our health to get a resource that poses even greater risks when we use it,” Hsia-Coron says.

And then on the other side, the oil companies and the royalty owners say that Measure Z would eventually shut down the oil and gas industry um at San Ardo Field. They say that since Measure Z bans the drilling of new wells that would eventually shut down the operation because the current wells have a lifespan. And they say you have to drill new wells for the techniques used in San Ardo Field in order to extract the oil there. In addition to that they say since Measure Z phases out the disposal of the wastewater from oil production back into the ground it would just be too costly for them to truck the wastewater out. I also spoke with Debra Demaree. She’s a fourth generation royalty owner in San Ardo and she’s also rancher.

“We’re losing something that’s been in our family for generations. It’s something that somebody else is trying to take away from us that we were given. And I don’t think people have a right to do that,” Demaree says.

So depending on how this trial ends, these royalty owners will likely be seeking compensation.

KA: What are the different ways this could end?

EM: There are three options. First Measure Z stands completely, which means the limits on Monterey County’s oil and gas industry that are in Measure Z would be implemented. Secondly, the judge could determine that Measure Z is invalid and that means that things would just continue as they are today. And lastly the judge could say that just parts of the measure stand.

KA: Those outcomes won’t make everyone happy so what does that mean?

EM: Yeah I don’t think they will. Both sides say no matter the decision, an appeal is likely.

Depending on how the judge rules, the trial could continue into additional phases. 

Erika joined KAZU in 2016. Her roots in radio began at an early age working for the independent community radio station in her hometown of Boulder, Colorado. After graduating from the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University in 2012, Erika spent four years working as a television reporter. She’s very happy to be back in public radio and loves living in the Monterey Bay Area.
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