Enviro groups pressed Newsom to oust former oil chief

A move to undercut controversial drilling rules and outrage from environmental justice activists led to the ouster of California’s top oil regulator.

Speculation that former California Geologic Energy Management Division boss Uduak-Joe Ntuk, the chief regulator of California’s oil industry, was forced out due to objections from environmental groups appear to have been confirmed.

Environmental justice groups trumpeted that they had been meeting with California Gov. Gavin Newsom since the fall, according to a report from the Bakersfield Californian


Driving the news: When Ntuk took over the state’s top oil job, his predecessor, Ken Harris, had been fired because of a dramatic increase in fracking permits. 

  • Ntuk followed the same pattern over the last few months with a 754 percent uptick in new oil drilling permits issued in the fourth quarter of 2022. Nearly half of the permits were for wells within the new buffer zone of 3,200 feet near homes and other sensitive areas.  
  • Such permitting is required to stop under legislation Newsom signed in September. The legislation took effect this month, but environmental groups were urging the state for months to halt new permits within the buffer zone. 

By the numbers: There were not any new wells approved within the proposed buffer zone last June, but in October, just after Newsom signed the legislation, that number jumped above 40. 

What they’re saying: Consumer Watchdog advocate Liza Tucker said Ntuk and CalGEM had “gone rogue” in the latter part of 2022. 

  • “We hope Uduak’s departure is a sign that Governor Newsom will appoint a successor who will crack down on new well approvals that threaten vulnerable communities.”
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