The ‘Necessity of Oil and Gas Drilling’

The California Supreme Court on Aug. 3 unanimously overturned a successful 2016 Monterey County ballot measure that banned new oil and gas drilling. According to plaintiff Chevron USA, the justices recognized the ‘necessity of oil and gas drilling.’

3 minute read

August 7, 2023, 9:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

View of vast oil drilling field with black oil derricks near Bakersfield, California

Alizada Studios / Adobe Stock

Flash back seven years ago to Planetizen's coverage of the 2016 election and campaign, specifically to:

  • One of the Most Important Energy Measure on the Ballot on Tuesday, November 6, 2016: While billed as an “anti-fracking initiative,” Measure Z in Monterey County, the 4th-largest oil-producing county in California, does far more. It bans new oil drilling and requires the cleaning of wastewater from current drilling operations.

The citizen-initiated Measure Z, sponsored by the grassroots group, Protect Monterey County, passed with over 56 percent of the vote on Nov. 8, 2016. The next month, Chevron U.S.A. and Aera Energy, both having active oil fields in the county, filed separate suits, claiming “that the county did not have jurisdiction over oil and gas operations and that the measure amounted to an unconstitutional taking of private property without just compensation,” according to Ballotpedia. They were joined by a local school district that relies on the Chevron oil field for nearly 90% of it property tax funding.

“Supporters [of the measure] said it would combat pollution and climate change,” wrote Bob Egelko, courts reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle on August 3 in the source article for this post.

But lower courts said the measure conflicted with longstanding California laws and the state’s high court agreed Thursday. Justice Martin Jenkins said a law passed in 1939 and amended most recently in 1972 requires state officials to supervise production “in a way that serves the dual purpose of ensuring the state has adequate oil and gas resources, while protecting the environment.”

An attorney for Chevron U.S.A. ... said the court rightly found that California law “recognizes the necessity” of oil and gas production. “Chevron is pleased that this decision brings an end to seven years of litigation and appeals,” Jeffrey Dintzer said in a statement.


To be sure, it wasn't just the need to supply Californians with oil and gas that swayed the courts. “The trial court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs on state and federal preemption grounds,” wrote Jenkins in the 24-page ruling, "Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. County Of Monterey [pdf]. "[Protect Monterey County] appealed, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.”

Next battles

“Thursday’s ruling, however, steered clear of the location issue,” added Egelko, and then described the passage of SB 1137: Health Protection Zones for Frontline Communities [pdf] last year by Sens. Lena Gonzalez and Monique Limón. The law has yet to take effect due to a challenge by the state's oil and gas industry:

  • Election 2024: California Oil Drilling Referendum, July 30, 2023: Environmentalists gear up for battle to reject a referendum funded by Big Oil on a law passed last year that would ban oil and gas drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Finally, the state supreme court's ruling last week may suggest how they will rule on a somewhat similar oil and gas drilling ban in the city of Los Angeles, though the result of legislation not a citizens' initiative.

Hat tip to Kathy Dervin, Sierra Club California Energy - Climate Committee.

Thursday, August 3, 2023 in San Francisco Chronicle

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