Fracking Wars: Battleground Butte County

Oct 31, 2014 11:06 AM by Brian Johnson

As the debate over the process of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, plays out on the national stage, one California County has made some noise...and drawn some attention, for weighing an all-out ban on the practice.

It's still being played out in the county chambers.

"Politics," said Joni Stellar, with a sigh. "We'll see what happens."

Butte wouldn't be the first California County to implement a ban.

Santa Cruz did so this spring.

And they wouldn't be the first to consider one, as counties like Santa Barbara and Mendocino have ban measures on the November ballot.

Whereas Butte's citizen's initiative was temporarily stalled by a Sacramento and Marin county law firm.

It was then derailed until 2016 when Wild Goose, the natural gas storage facility in Gridley, stepped in with concerns over vagueness in the proposed ordinance's language.

Stellar says they were fearful of being put out of business.

But the interference, she said, came out of nowhere.
Stellar says both were major setbacks, but she says after the latest, Butte County brought their ban efforts back.

"When it was derailed, they began immediately moving from back burner to front burner on getting this initiative completed," Stellar said. "They've done an excellent job..."

That was after the Board of Supervisor's directed an ordinance be drafted following a 4 to one vote supporting a fracking ban (in April).

Stellar says that vote of confidence left Frack Free activists feeling victorious yet vulnerable-vulnerable to people like Energy in Depth's Dave Quast.

"These are local folks who are concerned about energy independence and the message it sends for a county like Butte that doesn't even have oil development to symbolically ban something that actually affects almost half a million Californians--their jobs," said Quast. "And the places where you do have hydraulic fracturing are precisely those places where they know it's safe and they don't have that kind of anti-fracking activity."

"I would say who's really making the symbolic gesture?" Stellar said. "If indeed Butte County does not have substantial quantities of gas, if indeed there is no intention to use us as their cesspool, why is industry spending scads of money to defeat an effort to ban fracking in this county?"

"We're here to save our water," Stellar added. "There's nothing symbolic about that. That's true, that's real."
For Stellar and Frack Free Butte County, water is the crucial common denominator and the essence of their arguments.

"But when it comes to water contamination, both federal and state regulators have confirmed time and time again that there's never been a case of water contamination from hydraulic fracturing," Quast said.

True said Stellar, if you're talking about the literal frack that makes things go boom.

"Most of the documented cases have been related to the wastewater re-handling," said Stellar. "Those are the direct links they do make between improper handling of the wastewater."

And that's why, she says, in last week's planning commission meeting, members directed county counsel to draft up another, separate ordinance that would ban all fracking wastewater in the county.

Stellar will gladly take such a ban, given the byproduct of the process is her main concern.

But she said the whole process of fracking is a concern that a wastewater ban can't quell.

"That doesn't protect our water," Stellar said. "That doesn't protect our people. The fracking process is inherently dangerous."

Those that urge caution on the county level also look to the state legislation, SB-4.

"So I think we at least need to wait until the state implements its statewide regulations and the public has all the protections that its been asking for," Quast said.

"But here we go again, OK?" said Frack Free's Chuck Greenwood. "We will stall, we will urge further study, and in the meantime, we'll try like hell to settle all the lawsuits out of court."

Speaking of court, Stellar is certain that any ban on fracking in Butte County would be challenged in court.
But whether it's in court or in the chambers, this issue is a land one, one Stellar said county has authority over, and one that is far from over.

If you'd like to learn more about the process of fracking, we've posted some raw video of a Chico State professor's presentation during last week's planning commission meeting.

MORE: Fracking Wars: Battleground Butte County Part II


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