Jul 23, 2014 4:08 PM by Scott Howard
A proposed initiative that would ban a controversial oil and natural gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing in Butte County will go forward after a Butte County judge agreed Wednesday that faulty wording in a petition did not add up to a fatal flaw worthy of killing the initiative process.
Before a packed courtroom in Chico, Judge Robert Glusman directed the Butte County-Clerk Recorder's Office to begin the process of validating signatures among the 10,000 on the petition so it can certified and sent on to the Butte County Board of Supervisors for next Tuesday's meeting.
The decision was a major victory for citizens group known as Frack-Free Butte County. It is a citizen's group, through and through. Its ad-hoc leader is former science teacher and local activist, Joni Stellar. During Wednesday's hearing, Stellar sat before Judge Glusman on her own. Next to her were three attorneys, two of them representing a Gridley resident who claimed that such a ban would unfairly restrict oil and gas exploration on his land.
And several weeks ago, those attorneys fired pre-emptive strike by challenging the wording and format of the petitions containing about 10,000 signatures. The attorney's argued that certain bold type and other formatting on the petition was misleading to those signing the petitions. They also claimed that petition lacked property wording explaining what the initiative would actually do if approved.
"I've never seen such a petition where I can't tell what do with it," attorney Sean Welch told the judge.
Those claims, however, were enough to cause the Butte County Clerk-Recorders Office to nullify Frack-Free Butte County's petition on a technicality back in June, and that's what lead to today's hearing.
In the end, Judge Glusman said the flaws in the petition were not substantial. Glusman also addressed the argument that such a ban on fracking or extraction by "well stimulation techniques" would essentially put a stop to all oil and gas exploration and extraction in Butte County. Furthermore, the attorney's said the initiative goes against the county's current general plan policy of promoting oil and gas drilling.
Hydraulic fracturing is a procedure that can increase the flow of oil or gas from a well. It is done by pumping liquids down a well into subsurface rock under pressures that are high enough to fracture the rock.
Glusman said that he saw no why reason an ordinance can't prohibit a certain type of extraction while allowing others.
"So if the county banned extraction by thermal nuclear explosion, would that be in conflict (with the general plan)? Glusman asked.
Roger Wilson from the county counsel's office also interjected saying that the county's general plan calls for "safe and effective extraction of natural resources."
"(The General Plan) is consistent with the initiative, not at odds with the initiative," Wilson said.
After hearing, an elated Joni Stellar addressed supporters outside the courthouse.
"We couldn't be more pleased that the judge supported the interests of the people of Butte County today," Stellar said. "Our rights to utilize the initiative process to protect our water, our air and our communities from the known and unknown hazards of fracking, have been clearly upheld by this ruling."
An attorney for the other side told reporters afterward that they were not ready to offer a comment at the time.