California’s former oil boss sues state for wrongful termination

The former head of CalGEM claims that Gov. Gavin Newsom retaliated against him for refusing to stop issuing new oil well permits.

Uduak-Joe Ntuk, California’s former top oil regulator, claims he was fired by Gov. Gavin Newsom in retaliation for complaining about orders to stop issuing new well drilling permits. 

Ntuk, who served as the head of the California Geologic Energy Management Division, filed a lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court this week against the state. 


The backstory: Ntuk’s claims center around Senate Bill 1137, which bans new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of homes, schools and other sensitive locations. 

  • SB 1137 took effect at the start of the year, but in early February a ballot initiative was approved for the November 2024 ballot which would repeal the bill. SB 1137 has been on hold since February and will only go back into effect with voter approval next year. 
  • Ntuak resigned in January, saying he needed to focus on his family’s needs. Reports came out shortly after, though, detailing how environmental groups pressured Newsom to fire Ntuk for the number of new permits he issued last year – a 754 percent rate in the last three months of 2022. Half of those new permits were for wells within the buffer zone defined by SB 1137. 

The big picture: Per the lawsuit, Ntuk contends that Newsom’s office pressured him to begin implementing SB 1137 even though the law was going to be paused by the referendum. 

  • The lawsuit states that Ntuk would have had to “arbitrarily halt all oil well drilling permits statewide,” which he thought was illegal given the ballot initiative. 
  • Ntuk complained about the orders on Jan. 4 in an official complaint. He was out of a job by Jan. 13. 
  • Ntuk is accusing the state of wrongful termination, failure to prevent retaliation and retaliation for being forced to resign.
Related Posts