Lawyers are gearing up for a courtroom battle over some of the most carbon intensive supplies in the world

San Ardo oil field produces the most carbon-intensive crude in California (Pic: Flickr/Loco Steve)
San Ardo oil field produces the most carbon-intensive crude in California (Pic: Flickr/Loco Steve)

The oil extracted from San Ardo field in Monterey County, California, is known in the trade as “heavy”.

It “has the consistency of ketchup”, as Chevron expressed it in legal papers. The company injects steam in the well to soften it up and get the crude flowing to the surface.

This high-energy process makes San Ardo one of the most climate polluting sources of oil in the world – worse, even, than Canada’s notoriously dirty tar sands.

And it is at the centre of a legal battle brewing between three oil majors and a coalition of community organisers and environmental lawyers.

On 8 November, Monterey County passed “Measure Z”, a package of regulations to effectively halt new oil and gas production, with 56% of the vote.

Chevron and Aera Energy, a Californian outfit co-owned by affiliates of Exxon Mobil and Shell, sued to block the initiative last Wednesday.

The stage is set for a courtroom drama next year pitting corporate property rights against growing concerns about the oil sector’s impact on water resources and the climate.

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Measure Z was billed as a fracking ban, the seventh at county level in California and the first from a major oil producing area. In fact, its scope is wider, prohibiting a range of practices including disposal of wastewater in aquifers.

“Protect our water” is the rallying cry, with California’s ongoing – if easing – drought focusing attention on the importance of groundwater resources.

The initiative also makes the case for a local economy based around agriculture and tourism, highlighting the beauty of the landscape.

“Oil and gas development projects are industrial operations at odds with the qualities and values that make Monterey County unique and prosperous,” it states.

The campaign website lists scores of endorsements ranging from health…