Fracking still up in the air

Board of supervisors sends fracking ordinance to 2016 election

The Butte County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday (Aug. 26) to place an anti-fracking initiative on the June 2016 ballot. If passed, it would ban the form of gas and oil extraction known as hydraulic fracturing—aka fracking—within county limits.

Earlier this year, grassroots group Frack-Free Butte County gathered enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot. However, a Big Oil-funded complaint questioned its wording, including the size of type, and its verification process was held up by County Clerk Candace Grubbs.

Butte County Superior Court Judge Robert Glusman subsequently ruled the initiative’s structure as valid and the process went forward. But County Council Bruce Alpert expressed reservations about the wording and a natural-gas extraction company called Wild Goose voiced concerns that its operations could be barred, even though it does not practice hydraulic fracturing.

The board voted back in July for a 30-day extension to allow counsel to come back with a report. That delay eclipsed any chance of the initiative making it onto this year’s general election ballot. At the Aug. 26 meeting, the board could have voted to simply adopt the ordinance without changes. It didn’t.

Chief Administrative Officer Paul Hahn told the supervisors the initiative as written was difficult to interpret. “The bottom line is that it’s unclear and its definitions are not very good,” he said. “There is some difficulty in answering as to whether it would affect Wild Goose’s operations. It’s just not clean and not clear and it could cost the county $500,000 in property taxes if they shut down operations and relocate.”

In the meantime, however, a counsel-written ordinance to ban fracking is expected to be made public Oct. 1 and then sent to a Planning Commission meeting on Oct. 23. It should be received for consideration by the supervisors in either December or January.