A couple happened in recent weeks, and some are still to come

Well, color me shocked. Pleasantly surprised would be more accurate. When News Editor Tom Gascoyne told me the Butte County Board of Supervisors voted to move forward on a fracking ban throughout the county on Tuesday, I did a double-take. My reaction was something like, “You’re kidding. How did that happen?” I’ve said this before, but very little surprises me. This did.

Word about the ban traveled fast—and far beyond Chico. By early afternoon the same day, I received an email from the Washington, D.C.-based Food & Water Watch, an environmental nonprofit, announcing the supes’ decision. The group noted that the Los Angeles City Council moved forward on a similar moratorium back in February. L.A. stands to be the first oil-producing city in the state to approve such a ban, and there’s a lot at stake down south. The city is home to about 4,800 oil and gas wells, 1,880 of which are active.

Locally, there are an estimated 26 active gas wells. There are another couple hundred abandoned wells. None of them are believed to be fracked. But that doesn’t mean no danger exists. As we know from last week’s cover story on water conservation (see “Let’s get serious: Butte County must start curbing water use … or else,” April 3), every bit of our drinking water is groundwater. Contamination by fracking could have calamitous results.

What’s most surprising about the local move to establish a moratorium is how it comes from a conservative-majority Board of Supervisors. Staunch conservative Supervisor Larry Wahl cast the lone dissenting vote.

So, what happened? As you’ll read in Gascoyne’s story, Steve Lambert has a very personal and tragic connection to the effects of groundwater contamination—namely the death of his cousin, a resident of Hinkley. That’s the small Southern California town of Erin Brockovich fame that has very nearly become a ghost town. About 20 years ago PG&E, which used chromium in its natural-gas operations there, was fingered as the culprit for polluting the region’s groundwater. Decades after the utility giant settled with residents there, the pollution has not been contained. In fact, it’s spread. The plume is about 6 miles long and 4 miles wide, or 24 square miles. That’s an area slightly smaller than the size of Chico: 27 square miles.

One of the other surprises recently was the liberal-majority Chico City Council’s vote last week to hire an out-of-town law firm to represent the city. No offense to the City of Industry-based Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, but it’s hard to imagine that out-of-towners will hold the same level of commitment to Chico and its well-being as someone with ties to this community. Needless to say, we’ll be keeping our eyes on this new partnership.

The last surprise around these parts will include, for the first time in a long time, some changes in the pages of the CN&R. For starters, you’ll be introduced to a couple of new voices. We will debut a new columnist in two weeks, followed by another the week thereafter. Stay tuned.