San Benito County Drilling Ban Looking at $1.2 Billion Lawsuit

San Benito County’s Measure J, the drilling ban written by the law firm that authored Santa Barbara County’s Measure P, has been slapped with a $1.2 billion claim — claims typically precede lawsuits — by Citadel Exploration. Measure J (approved by 57 percent of voters) and Measure P (rejected by 62 percent of voters) were similar in their efforts to ban fracking, acidizing, and cyclic steam injection wells in their respective counties. However, whereas Measure P aimed to ban new projects using those methods, Measure J outlaws both future operations and existing operations within three years; Measure J also prohibits all oil drilling in rural residential areas.

According to the Hollister Free Lance newspaper in San Benito County, Citadel Exploration filed its claim two days after the November 4 election. The company reportedly stated that its plans for up to 1,000 cyclic-steaming wells near Pinnacles National Park were made defunct by Measure J. Citadel came to the $1.2 billion sum by multiplying the current $80 value of a barrel of oil by the 40 million barrels its project could produce.

The arguments put forth by proponents and opponents of Measure J mirrored those made during the Measure P campaign. Supporters of both initiatives cited a desire to prevent possible environmental calamities in the face of climate change. Naysayers called for increased domestic production and threatened lawsuits alleging violations of property rights. In San Benito County, Measure J faced $1.8 million in opposition spending, while supporters raised about $100,000. Santa Barbara County’s Measure P drew a $6.6 million fight from the oil industry compared to the $400,000 raised by advocates.

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