Newsom appoints two top oil and gas regulators - one a former Chevron staffer - to Dept. of Conservation

In this photo taken on May 10, 2019, oil flows at a Chevron oil field in Kern County, California's top oil producing county. Photo courtesy of California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response via AP. | 


By Dan Bacher |  

On October 12, Governor Gavin Newsom appointed David Shabazian as the new director of the Department of Conservation, and Uduak-Joe Ntuk — a former Chevron staffer — as the new division supervisor, which operates under the Department of Conservation umbrella. 

On the same day, the Governor also signed several bills, including AB 1057 by Assemblymember Monique Limόn (D-Santa Barbara), which renames the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) the Geologic Energy Management Division. 

“It also specifies that its mission include protecting public health and safety and environmental quality, including the reduction of Greenhouse Gas emissions,” according to the Governor’s Office. 

Other bills signed include AB 342, to block state lands from being used for new Trump administration oil extraction, and AB 1328, to protect public health from emissions from idle and abandoned wells.   

“California is a leader in the fight to transition away from fossil fuels,” said Governor Newsom. “These bills put intentions into action. These reforms and new leadership will enhance safety of existing oil wells, refocus the state’s geologic energy division to better consider public health and fight against the Trump administration’s efforts to expand oil extraction in California.”   

The two appointments came in the wake of a big shake up at the California Department of Conservation after Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance revealed in July that fracking permits had increased 103 percent and new oil well permits had increased by 35.3% in the first five months of the Newsom administration. The report by the non-profit groups also found that eight oil and gas regulators were invested in the oil industry that they regulate.

Shabazian, 53, of Sacramento, is the new director of the California Department of Conservation. Shabazian has been program manager of rural-urban connections strategy for the Sacramento Area Council of Governments since 2007, where he has also served as project manager of water resources and floodplain program management since 2004.

He was deputy project manager for blueprint land use – transportation study at the Sacramento Area Council of Governments from 2000 to 2004, a post-graduate researcher at the University of California, Davis from 1996 to 2000 and a planner for the City of Davis from 1994 to 1996.

He is chair of the Center for Land-Based Learning Board of Directors and a member of the Sacramento Food Bank and Family Services Board. Shabazian earned a Master of Science degree in transportation technology and policy from the University of California, Davis. This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $190,008. Shabazian is registered without party preference.

Ntuk, 40, of Long Beach, is the new supervisor of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources at the California Department of Conservation. Ntuk has been petroleum administrator for the City of Los Angeles since 2016 and an adjunct faculty member at the California State University, Long Beach Chemical Engineering Department since 2015.

He was petroleum engineering associate for the City of Long Beach from 2011 to 2016 and held several positions at Chevron Corporation from 2006 to 2011, including reservoir engineer and production engineer. Ntuk was an academic advisor at the California State University, Long Beach College of Engineering from 2003 to 2005.

He is an elected member of the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees. Ntuk earned a Master of Science degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Southern California. This position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is $209,940. Ntuk is a Democrat. 

The appointments of Shabazian and Ntuk come in the wake of increased opposition by environmental justice, conservation and public interest groups to the expansion of onshore and offshore drilling in California under Governors Jerry Brown and Gavin Newsom.

Despite California’s “green” image, Governor Brown’s oil and gas regulators approved over 21,000 new oil and gas wells, including over 200 new offshore wells, according to a 2018 analysis of Department of Conservation data by the Fracktracker Alliance.

Rather than decreasing the number of oil drilling permits approved, the Newsom administration in fact doubled the numbers of fracking permits issued during Newsom’s first five months as Governor, as documented in my article on the report by Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance: www.dailykos.com/…

From January 1 to June 3 of 2018, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data analyzed by the two groups.

The data reveals that this year regulators have increased the number of permits granted for drilling new wells by 35.3%, well reworks by 28.3%, and fracking by 103.2%, as compared to the permitting rate during the final year of the Brown administration in 2018.

Of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by eight senior DOGGR officials.

A review of state financial conflict of disclosure forms also found that eight oil and gas regulators below were invested in the oil industry that they regulate,.

After the two groups exposed the expansion of oil and gas drilling and big conflicts of interests by senior DOGGR officials, Newsom fired Ken Harris, the head of DOGGR.

In September, Janet Wilson, reporter for the Desert Sun, found that California had issued no new fracking permits since late June, but that ‘enhanced recovery’ wells had increased by 60 percent this year and the regular and oil gas drilling permits had increased by 20 percent in 2019: www.desertsun.com/...
“California has issued no permits for fracking since late June, according to records reviewed by The Desert Sun and watchdog groups,” Wilson said.

“But permits for sometimes risky ‘enhanced recovery’ wells and related storage are up nearly 60% in 2019 so far under Gov. Gavin Newsom, compared to Gov. Jerry Brown’s last year in office. Regular oil and gas drilling permits are up 20%,” she said.

Not only are permits for enhanced recovery wells up 60% and regular oil and gas drilling up 20%  this year, but California officials have in fact proposed the deepening of reliance on fossil fuels in the state that directly opposes California’s goal of 100% renewable energy by 2045, according to a new report by Food and Watch Watch.

“The new report, California Leads: How to Break Fossil Fuel Dependence in the Golden Statedetails the web of fossil fuel infrastructure - including 298 gas-fired power plants and 100,000 miles of oil and gas pipelines - currently engulfing the state, and the alarming proposed expansion of this network,” according to the group.

“Existing fossil fuel operations mean that California is second only to Texas as an emitter of climate polluting greenhouse gasses. And the state has issued 2,383 new drilling permits since the beginning of the year,” the group said.

Background: Big Oil regulatory capture from top to bottom  

In spite of California’s “green” image, Big Oil and other corporate interests have captured California regulators from top to bottom in recent years. The oil and gas lobby is the most powerful corporate lobby in California — and the Western States Petroleum Association is the single most powerful lobbying organization.

From 2001 to 2017 Chevron and AERA contributed $129 million of the $170 million spent by oil and gas interests to fund California political campaigns, according to the groups. The Western States Petroleum Association, the oil and gas trade association of which Chevron and Aera are members, was the top-spending lobbyist in Sacramento in 5 of the last 7 election cycles.

The conflicts of interest by eight DOGGR officials exposed by Consumer Watchdog and the Fractracker Alliance in July are only the latest in series of conflicts of interests held by state regulatory officials.
In one of the biggest conflicts of interest of the past 20 years, the President of the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA), Catherine Reheis-Boyd, chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative to create so-called “marine protected areas” in Southern California. Her organization was promoting the expansion of offshore fracking and drilling at the same time that she led the effort to create “marine protected areas” in the same region from 2009 to 2012.

It is no surprise that these “marine protected areas” fail to protect the ocean from fracking, oil and gas drilling, pollution, military testing and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.  

Reheis-Boyd also served on the task forces to create “marine protected areas” on the Central Coast, North Central Coast and North Coast.  

WSPA has spent a total $83,107,421 lobbying since 2005. Chevron spent $44,876,606 in that period; Aera spent $5,627,258.56.

WSPA and Big Oil wield their power in 6 major ways: through (1) lobbying; (2) campaign spending; (3) serving on and putting shills on regulatory panels; (4) creating Astroturf groups: (5) working in collaboration with media; and (6) contributing to non profit organizations.

Because of this money and the power that Big Oil wields in California, the Jerry Brown administration issued over 21,000  new oil and gas drilling permits in California. That include more than 200 permits for offshore wells in state waters -- wells within 3 miles of the California coast.

The latest revelations by Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Alliance found that the Newsom Administration, in spite of the hopes of fishermen, conservationists, environmental justice advocates and Tribal leaders, is continuing Jerry Brown’s oil and gas drilling expansion. 

In addition, the state of California under Brown — and now under Gavin Newson - controls four times as many offshore oil wells in state waters as Trump’s federal government controls in California waters. You can view the map showing the location of wells here: http://brownvtrumpoilmap.org.

This money and power also allowed the oil industry to write the cap-and-trade bill, AB 398, that Governor Brown signed in September 2017, as well as to twice defeat a bill to protect a South Coast marine protected area from offshore drilling.

Ironically, the same WSPA president that led the charge to defeat a bill to protect the Vandenberg State Marine Reserve from offshore oil drilling chaired the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative Blue Ribbon Task Force to create these “marine protected areas” on the South Coast.  

For more information about WSPA and Big Oil, read my piece: California's Biggest Secret? How Big Oil Dominates Public Discourse to Manipulate and Deceive: www.dailykos.com/...   














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