After Monterey County voters approved Measure Z, a fracking ban and limit on other oil extraction processes, in November 2016, oil companies and royalty owners quickly filed six lawsuits against the county. Those have all been consolidated into one trial. Phase one began Monday.
At issue is whether a county regulation can preempt state and federal regulations on the oil and gas industry.
“The second really big issue has to do with the taking of property rights. And under both the state and federal constitutions, you can’t take property rights without compensation,” said Kathy Miller, spokesperson for Aera Energy, one of the oil companies suing the county.
Fracking does not currently happen in Monterey County, but Measure Z goes beyond the fracking ban. It also prohibits other activities related to oil extraction including the drilling of all new oil wells in Monterey County, and preventing the disposal of wastewater from oil production back into the ground.
Measure Z passed with 56 percent of the vote. Supporters call it David versus Goliath victory.
On Monday morning before the trial, they gathered in front of Superior Court in Monterey holding signs that read “Defend Z” and “The People Have Spoken.”
Kassie Siegel addressed the group. She is a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity defending Measure Z alongside the county, and said this trial has national implications.
“We need to transition urgently to a clean energy future. The power of local governments to pass measures like Measure Z that limit the future growth of the oil industry in their county and that protect our air and water from oil industry pollution is absolutely an essential part of that,” Siegel said.
The trial is expected to last at least through Friday, with a decision coming later. Siegel said no matter what happens, it’s virtually certain the decision will be appealed.
KCBX's Greta Mart contributed to this report.