The issue of local control over oil/natural gas development is alive in California despite a new statewide regulatory process (SB 4) covering well stimulation practices, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

Earlier this month Citadel Exploration Inc. withdrew a lawsuit it had filed in a California Superior Court challenging a fracking ban (Measure J) that was passed last November by voters in San Benito County, south of San Jose. At the time, the company did not give a reason for withdrawing the action, according to local press reports. A company representative did not respond to a request for comment from NGI’s Shale Daily.

Environmentalists hailed the move by Citadel as opening the door for more local jurisdictions to pursue drilling restrictions.

Citadel challenged the San Benito measure last month, and the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) said it was going to step up whenever local governments attempt to place restrictions on drilling. WSPA dropped a lawsuit against the Los Angeles suburb of Compton, CA, after city officials repealed a local moratorium.

“We were not aware of the Citadel development until we saw it in the paper,” said WSPA spokesperson Tupper Hull. “Citadel is not part of ”Californians for Energy Independence,’ which is the group we and the [California] Independent Petroleum Association have put together to address the local fracking issues.”

Backers of the San Benito ballot measure contend that local governments can and should prohibit what they describe as “high-intensity” oil/gas operations under their basic land use authority. They called Citadel’s decision “a great victory” for San Benito, adding that other communities have the powers to do the same.

“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 in San Francisco. “With frivolous lawsuits off the table, more California communities will use their authority to ban fracking and protect their water, air and health.”

Earlier this year, activist and environmental groups petitioned California Gov. Jerry Brown to impose a statewide moratorium on fracking, citing action taken by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo as an example (see Shale Daily, Feb. 27).

However, state officials that oversee oil/gas activities have stressed that the California Council on Science and Technology and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory conducted an assessment of fracking’s impact, concluding that fracking in California is different from the practice in other states, so imposing a moratorium would make no difference (see Shale Daily, Jan. 15).

SB 4, which was passed in late 2013, goes into full effect July 1 (see Shale Daily, Dec. 12, 2013).