Calif. high court: Local laws can’t ban fracking

A 2016 measure in Monterey County was struck down for usurping key regulatory powers held by California’s state government.

The California Supreme Court ruled that Monterey County cannot enforce a voter-approved ban on new oil and gas wells, following a lawsuit filed by Chevron.

The move comes as state officials, on order from policymakers in Sacramento, ratchet up pressure to wind down oil production in the Golden State.


Inside the decision: The court stated that the state, not the county, has the authority to regulate certain methods of oil production that would have been banned by the measure.

  • The initiative, known as Measure Z, was design to ban hydraulic fracturing – or fracking – which involves injecting fluids into the ground to help oil come up along with instituting a new oil and gas wells.
  • The decision did not address the ban on fracking, which is not currently practiced in Monterey County. However, Governor Gavin Newsom has previously expressed the intention to stop issuing fracking permits by 2024.

Blow to supporters: The ruling was a crushing blow to environmental activists who fought for stricter regulations on the oil industry.

  • Proponents of the measure are now hoping that the ruling doesn’t spillover to invalidate other local measures curtailing energy production, such as the ban on new oil and gas drilling implemented by the Los Angeles City Council and the fracking ban in San Benito County.

State of play: This ruling reflects the ongoing conflict between California’s Democratic leaders and the oil and gas industry. While California has set ambitious goals to transition to renewable energy sources, it still remains one of the top oil-producing states in the country.

    • Newsom enacted various laws and regulations aimed at reducing the oil and gas industry’s impact. He has proposed halting all oil drilling in the state by 2045 and signed a law to ban new wells in close proximity to residential areas and community sites.
    • A state law banning new wells was put on hold due to a referendum initiated by the oil industry, scheduled to be voted on in November 2024. In response, environmental advocates have launched a campaign to put a separate measure on the ballot to preserve the ban.
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