By Dan Bacher, INDYBAY.ORG

July 13, 2019

https://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2019/07/13/18824655.php

The announcement of Ken Harris' firing came several hours after two watchdog groups, Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Allliance, released a report revealing that eight DOGGR officials own stock in corporations they are responsible for regulating.

It also came after the many scores of articles I wrote and radio interviews I did documenting the expansion of oil and gas drilling and fracking and numerous conflicts of interests by oil and gas regulators in California under Governor Jerry Brown and now Gavin Newsom.

Governor Gavin Newsom reported on July 11 that he is firing California’s top oil and gas regulator over a big increase in permits for oil and gas drilling and fracking and over allegations of conflict of interest by senior officials in the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR).

Ann O’Leary, Newsom’s Chief of Staff, sent a letter to Wade Crowfoot, California Natural Resources Secretary, asking him to “immediately make” several changes in the Department of Conservation, including firing Ken Harris. Harris has led DOGGR since 2015.

O'Leary also told Crowfoot to "continue at full pace the investigation you have already started related to the allegations that employees at DOGGR have holdings in energy companies, which could constitute actual or apparent conflicts of interest, and take the maximum disciplinary action appropriate under law,” according to the Desert Sun.  

Leary’s request came several hours after two watchdog groups, Consumer Watchdog and the FracTracker Allliance, released a report revealing that eight DOGGR officials own stock in corporations they are responsible for regulating.

It also came after the many scores of articles I wrote and radio interviews I did documenting the expansion of oil and gas drilling and fracking and numerous conflicts of interests by oil and gas regulators in California under Governor Jerry Brown and now Gavin Newsom. 

From January 1 to June 3 of 2019, the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources approved 2,365 new oil and gas well permits and 191 fracking permits, according to Department of Conservation data. Even more alarming, of the 2,365 well permits issued, 1064 or 45% of them benefitted oil companies invested in by DOGGR officials, the groups reported.

The reports also showed that fracking and oil and gas drilling has increased dramatically in the first five months of 2019 under Newsom. The Newsom administration has increased permits granted for oil and gas drilling by 35.3% and fracking and acid fracturing by 103.2% in the first five months of 2019, as compared to the rate of permitting under Jerry Brown.

O’Leary claimed Newsom “was unaware of the increase in fracking permits and that he is concerned about fracking’s environmental impact,” according to the Associated Press.

However, a review of state conflict of interest forms shows that eight regulators managing the state’s oil and gas well approval and inspection process have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the oil companies they regulate. “One of the regulators is among the top three in command at the State’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR),” according to Consumer Watchdog.

David Gutierrez, Deputy Director for Programs at DOGGR, disclosed stock worth up to $100,000 in Exxon Mobil, a parent of AERA Energy, which has received 448 drilling permits this year, the second most after Chevron.  

Consumer Watchdog praised Newsom’s firing of Harris, but urged him to take additional actions.

“Governor Newsom’s decisive action to get new leadership over oil wells and fracking in California shows he is serious about putting the public’s health and safety over the interests of the oil industry that has dominated the oil well approval process for decades,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “The Governor must demand that the entire leadership of the Department of Conservation and DOGGR be accountable for the conflict ridden agency and dismiss other Governor Brown appointees that allowed the corrupted oil well approval machine to go on for so long.”

Mayor of Culver City Meghan Sahli-Wells, Co-Chair of Elected Officials to Protect California, applauded Newsom’s decision to fire Harris, but urged Newsom to end new permits for drilling and to immediately create a 2,500-foot drilling setback.

“On behalf of 240 elected officials from 41 counties calling to phase out fossil fuel production in California, we commend Governor Newsom for removing Ken Harris from heading the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR),” said Sahli-Wells. “While this is an important step, the only way to do right by Californians and the climate is for Governor Newsom to end new permits for drilling and immediately create a 2,500-foot drilling setback from homes, schools, and vulnerable areas. This is essential to protect the people of California who are poisoned every day by toxic oil and gas production.”

“More than 5.4 million Californians live within a mile of drilling. Pollution from wells, refineries, and pipelines causes asthma, cancer, and reproductive harm, impacting disadvantaged people and people of color the most. Despite the known harms, California has no statewide setbacks on drilling from homes, schools, and hospitals. Stopping all permitting and instituting setbacks is the leadership that we urgently need to protect our public health and communities,” Sahli-Wells concluded.

Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance wrote a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom calling for the removal of Gutierrez and other DOGGR officials with conflicts of interests, as well as an immediate freeze on new well approvals. Read the letter here:
https://consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/DOGGRLettertoNewsomCWDandFracTracker.pdf

Here is a link to the 700 forms for the DOGGR officials with oil and gas investments: https://consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2019-06/DOGGR700sRegulatorInvestments.pdf

And Consumer Watchdog's FPPC Complaints: https://consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2019-07/CWD%20DOGGR%20FPPC%20Complaints.pdf