A big fracking error

County department’s statements that no gas well permits have been issued in 25 years were flat wrong

When Butte County Department of Development Services officials told the public and county supervisors that nobody had applied for a permit to drill a gas well in more than 25 years, they were mistaken. State records show that at least five permits were granted during that time. Those were issued by the state because the county didn’t even require a permit for gas-well drilling until 2012.

That’s what CN&R contributor Leslie Layton recently found out after a member of the anti-fracking group Frack-Free Butte County noticed that gas production had risen for a short time in the late ’90s (see “Cracks in the foundation,” Newslines, page 8).

Development Services Director Tim Snellings says he and his staff weren’t deliberately misleading the public and the supervisors about the lack of drilling permits; rather, they were working with the information on hand at the time. But how the department quoted 25 years’ worth of local drilling history when they’d only required permits for three years seems incompetent at best. They should have known to check with the state.

The problem is that, based on inadequate research, the narrative painted during the debate over a proposed fracking ban—it was shot down—was flawed. And it certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in the department’s proficiency moving forward. In short, they have a lot of homework to do.