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The San Ardo Oil Field in South Monterey County (pictured) could soon be joined by exploration wells in nearby Hames Valley.

A remote corner of Monterey County known as Hames Valley has been promoted as an idyllic wine-growing region. But deep below the rich soil, there could be a massive reservoir of oil and natural gas. 

At least, that’s the hope of a Bakersfield-based company that wants to drill four exploratory wells in the area. Trio Petroleum had already secured the necessary permits from the county but then, just over a year ago, the Center for Biological Diversity sued to block the project. 

The environmental group argued that the county had erred when it failed to analyze the impacts of full-scale commercial oil and gas production to the region.

A trial was held on May 13 in Monterey County Superior Court. Two months later, on July 12, Judge Susan Matcham delivered her ruling: Trio would be allowed to proceed without conudcting the full environmental analysis. 

A lawyer representing Trio, Jason Retterer, says that conducting such an analysis at this stage would have been prohibitively expensive, adding that the analysis would be much more reliable would once the company begins drilling and gathering data from its exploratory wells. 

Monterey County has seen no new oil drilling since 2016 when voters passed Measure Z, a ban on new wells as well as on fracking and wastewater injection technologies. The measure was quickly challenged in court and a judge upheld the fracking ban but struck down the prohibition on new drilling. That case is now on appeal and it’s not expected to be heard for months. 

If Trio carries out its intention to drill in Hames Valley, it would become the first company to take advantage of Measure Z’s partial unraveling with new oil wells.

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Asaf Shalev is a staff writer at the Monterey County Weekly. He covers higher education, the military, the environment, public lands and the geographic areas of Seaside, Monterey, Sand City, Big Sur and Carmel Valley.

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