Citadel drops Measure J lawsuit against county

Oil company had filed a $1.2 billion claim against the county before pursuing litigation

Citadel Exploration, the oil company that sued San Benito County over a local ban on fracking and other high-intensity petroleum operations, announced April 6 it has dropped its lawsuit, leaving the voter-approved ordinance in place.

Citadel Exploration’s decision to dismiss its own case means that local fracking bans in California face no remaining active legal challenges, despite threats from the oil industry.

Last November, San Benito County residents voted to pass Measure J, a local land-use ordinance that prohibits fracking, cyclic steam injection and other high-intensity petroleum operations. Measure J, which passed despite the oil industry spending more than $2 million on ads and campaigning, also prohibits land use for any oil and gas development in residential zones.

Citadel Exploration filed suit against the county last month, alleging that Measure J was preempted by state law. No other legal challenges have been filed against Measure J.

The San Benito County Board of Supervisors in March unanimously authorized the creation of a public fund for private donations in defense of Measure J. The move followed a private grant by The Schmidt Family Foundation — a charitable organization founded by Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google Inc. — to San Benito Rising, a local group of environmental advocates who successfully launched Measure J ahead of the 2014 election.

San Benito Rising was prepared to defend the initiative its members helped pass.

“This is a great victory for our community,” said Mary Hsia-Coron, who helped spearhead the Measure J campaign. “Our volunteers worked hard to educate voters about how fracking, cyclic steam and acidizing threaten our water, our health and our economic future. Other communities should take heart that they have the power to protect what they love. They can stand up to the oil industry and say ‘no’ to these dangerous practices.”  

“During this long drought, Measure J has become more important than ever,” said Paul Hain, a local farmer. “We're grateful to our attorneys for drafting a solid initiative that can stand up to legal challenges.”

Land use and election law attorneys at Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger drafted Measure J to ensure its validity.

“Local governments can prohibit high-intensity oil and gas operations under their fundamental land use authority,” said Heather Minner, an attorney with the firm. “Measure J sailed onto the ballot without any pre-election challenges and it’s not surprising that Citadel dropped its post-election suit like a hot potato.”

“So much for the oil industry’s empty threats against communities that fight fracking pollution,” said Hollin Kretzmann, an attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, which was also prepared to defend the ordinance in court. “With frivolous lawsuits off the table, more California communities will use their authority to ban fracking and protect their water, air, and health.”

BenitoLink Staff