Butte County California had the most organized group in California to get a petition on November's ballot allowing voters to have their say about banning fracking in their county. Butte County was going to be the first entire county to not allow fracking according to the most recent polling. The group, Frack Free Butte County needed to get 10% of registered voters to sign the petition to have it be on the ballot. Ten percent is 7,605 signatures. After our County Clerk-Recorder went through them she tallied 7,975 valid signatures as of June 5th when they were turned in. Everything was proper. It was a slam dunk. The citizens were going to get to vote about fracking in Butte County.
But then things suddenly got weird. What happened next should never have been allowed to happen.
A Sacramento Law Firm representing a pro-fracking organization called Californians for a Safe, Secure Energy Future was well aware of what was going on in Butte County as these Butte County folks were very open about what they were attempting to do. They have a facebook page, got into local media and even did a diary about it on DailyKos. They were extremely well organized and very public about their cause and what's at stake. They are quite concerned about our water. Chico, CA gets it's water from the Tuscan aquifer underground. It's been established that toxic water from fracking has definitely gotten into underground drinking water in California and in states all across the country.
Pro-fracking companies were not amused.
The Sacramento law firm contacted Candace Grubbs (Butte County Clerk-Recorder) and told her the petition was invalid and so all the signatures needed to be thrown out because it didn't meet certain formatting requirements, so Candace put it on hold June 16th. It went to the Butte County Superior Court on July 23rd and after being closely scrutinized was declared perfectly valid. The judge told the clerk to move ahead with it.
Unfortunately this delaying tactic by the Sacramento law firm, which caused confusion for nearly 5 1/2 weeks, resulted in exactly what Californians for a Safe, Secure Energy Future intended as their goal even though they were totally full of it in declaring that a (fabricated out of thin air) formatting issue invalidated the whole thing. The squabbling caused this issue to be brought before the Butte County Supervisors so they could decide if it should go on the November ballot.
This is not the way things normally work. Why this time? The judge declared the signatures and petition forms to be perfectly legal. The necessary number of signatures had been gotten. I signed it. California allows for propositions to be put on the ballot by the citizens of the state as long as the proper procedure is followed. That's exactly what happened here. How did this extra step get inserted into the process? Who pushed for that?
The Board of Supervisors had a 2 hour meeting on July 29th regarding the subject which was 6 days after the judge ruled the petition and signatures to be legally valid. This delay tactic allowed pro-fracking forces to swoop in to say why they wanted fracking in Butte County. One point was, since there is no fracking currently in Butte County, why does there have to be a law prohibiting it. Another point, and one that was repeated several times, is private citizens should have rights to do whatever they want with their property and to not allow fracking would hurt their property value. One guy said he'd worked in Texas for years and said, "It's a normal procedure. Every single oil well in Texas has been fracked. Why all the hysteria now?" The pro-fracking group demanded a 30-day study be done by the Butte County Board of Supervisors on the subject before it was allowed to be on the November ballot.
The anti-fracking group noted that the State of California has ordered the shutdown of 11 fracking sites and is reviewing 100 other sites in drought ravaged central California because the companies are pumping toxic fracking fluids into their wells that later leached into drinking water aquifers. They stated a 30-day study would make no difference and that banning fracking in Butte County is not a rush to judgement.
The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to do a 30-day study just as the pro-fracking group wanted. This means pro-frakers won because in Butte County you have to have a ballot initiative good to go at least 88 days before an election. A 30-day delay for a study as ordered by the Board of Supervisors means the proposition can't be put on the ballot in November 2014 because the study will not be concluded within that 88 day window.
So the next time it can be put on the ballot isn't until November 2016.
Keep in mind the group that gathered the signatures did everything right while the Sacramento law firm literally lied about the petition forms being wrongly formatted. Having an issue like this going before the Board of Supervisors is not normal. If enough valid signatures are acquired in time, the issue is supposed to be automatically included on the voting ballot.
By the way, PG&E works in south Butte County with the Wild Goose Storage facility which stores methane. This facility practices fracking according to the anti-fracking group. An attorney for Wild Goose Storage denies that saying, "It uses gravel to free up underground natural gas reserves and has a process to filter out sand from rising with the gas but doesn't use chemicals." (note: As pointed out by 6412093 in a comment below, Wild Goose has been around for decades and is a storage facility).
BTW, I know a guy that works for PG&E which is laying down gas pipelines as fast as they can. He works 70 hours a week now. He told me PG&E has even transferred folks who normally are involved only with transmission of natural gas through the pipes to working on the physical installation of new gas lines because there is so very much of that work that needs to be done right now... this red hot minute. I asked him why he has to work so much. He told me it's because they are getting ready for all the natural gas they are about to get from underground in Butte and Colusa counties.
Well, he didn't say anything about fracking, and PG&E claims they are somehow getting underground natural gas deposits by doing something that requires injection of something but doesn't use chemicals. Something seems a little bit fishy especially in light of the fact one County Supervisor (the one that represents me) stated Wild Goose Storage is one of the largest property-tax payees and if a fracking ban were to go into effect they would have to shut down and move elsewhere. Wait what? They claim they aren't fracking so how could a fracking ban force them to close up shop and move elsewhere? PG&E is building the new pipelines. Will some other third party do the actual fracking? Something doesn't quite add up here. I'd sure like to know exactly what they are doing to get the methane that goes to Wild Goose Storage because we are definitely getting mixed messages from what the company's lawyer is saying and what a member of the Butte County Board of Supervisors is saying. Did someone misspeak? Could be, but it's currently not fully clear what's going on.
The bottom line is now there is a full two years and two months span of time now that frackers can do whatever they want in Butte County before the voters will have any chance to have their say in the matter. By then I'm sure there will be plenty of fracking already happening. In other words, it will simply be far too late for Butte County to ban fracking. I wonder how much natural gas PG&E is expecting to get from underground in Butte County?
This, I hope, is a lesson that other counties around California and the USA will learn from. You can do everything right and some out of the area law firm can claim a totally bogus thing about the formatting of the petition in order to put a monkey wrench in the way things are suppose to go. Then there are judges that simply invalidate the will of the people. In Colorado the town of Longmont voted to be frack free. A judge in Colorado later ruled they can't do so by claiming the rights of the state are more important than the rights of a city or town. Pure rubbish. http://www.bloomberg.com/...
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