Former California oil regulator Uduak-Joe Ntuk has filed a lawsuit against the state, claiming he was fired by Gov. Gavin Newsom in response to his objections to the order halting the issuance of new drilling permits. The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The background to this case revolves around Senate Bill 1137, which bans new oil drilling within 3,200 feet of sensitive locations such as homes and schools. Although this law went into effect earlier this year, a ballot initiative was passed in early February for the November 2024 ballot. This initiative aims to repeal SB 1137 and effectively put the law on hold pending voter approval.
Ntuk resigned from his post in January, citing the needs of his family as a priority. However, reports soon emerged suggesting that environmental groups had pressured Newsom to fire Ntuk due to a large number of drilling permits issued in the final quarter of 2022, which saw a 754 percent increase. Additionally, half of these permits involved wells within the buffer zone established by SB 1137.
The lawsuit alleges that Ntuk faced pressure from Newsom’s office to implement SB 1137 despite the upcoming referendum. Believing that it would be illegal to arbitrarily stop all drilling permits across the state in light of the ballot initiative, Ntuk expressed his concerns in a formal complaint on January 4. However, just nine days later he was unemployed.
In his lawsuit, Ntuk accuses the state of unfair dismissals, failure to prevent retaliation and retaliation for forcing the person to resign.