County to pay $262K in attorneys’ fees over oil lawsuit

In this 2008 file photo, a lone oil drill operates in the hills of Bitterwater in San Benito County.

The county agreed to pay the Center for Biological Diversity $262,500 in attorneys’ fees—an amount now owed to taxpayers by an oil company that indemnified the local government—as part of a settlement in a lawsuit over the Project Indian oil site, according to court documents.
The county and nonprofit organization reached the settlement late last week for attorneys’ fees in regard to the lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity against the county. The petitioner initially sought $456,500 in attorneys’ fees as part of a November filing.
Supervisors in 2013 approved up to 15 exploratory wells for Citadel Exploration at the oil field site that became a cornerstone in the debate over Measure J in the November election. Measure J was the successful ballot item that bans fracking and other enhanced forms of extraction, such as steam injections, throughout the county.
Citadel Exploration had planned to use steam injections to extract oil at Project Indian. The Center for Biological Diversity objected and sued the county over the approval because it wanted an environmental impact report done before any drilling could occur. A Monterey County judge in August sided with the environmental organization and ordered Citadel Exploration to halt its drilling at the exploratory well.
While the settlement might end the environmental group’s fight against the county, the county in court documents expressed concern about Citadel’s ability to pay for the attorneys’ fees. Citadel’s indemnification agreement with the county requires the Southern California company to fund any legal costs related to the project.
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