The former head of California’s oil and gas regulatory agency, Uduak-Joe Ntuk, has filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging he was illegally forced to stop issuing new permits. to drill the well and later fired for raising concerns. . Ntuk, currently an elected trustee of the Long Beach Community College District, resigned as head of the California Division of Geological Energy Management (CalGEM) in January.
The controversy revolves around a state law that prohibits the drilling of new wells within 3,200 feet of sensitive areas such as homes and schools. Existing wells near these locations must comply with the new monitoring rules and may not be issued permits for future maintenance work. The law took effect on January 1, but was suspended shortly after opponents managed to reach the threshold required for a referendum measure in the November 2024 elections.
Ntuk’s lawsuit says the governor’s office pressured him to enforce the buffer zone law and stop issuing drilling permits statewide, instructions he believes would require him to break the law. . The governor’s press office referred requests for comment to the state Department of Conservation, which oversees CalGEM. Ntuk’s lawyer argued that the issue was not whether Ntuk had discretion to refuse the permits, but whether he reasonably believed he was being asked to break the law. Ntuk filed a complaint on January 4 and was fired on January 13.
Environmental groups have previously raised concerns about increasing well permits prior to the enactment of the buffer zone law. Activists say that while the number of new well permits has decreased, the state is increasing permits to redrill or reconfigure old wells, many of which are near residential areas and schools. . The result of the 2024 referendum has significant implications for Long Beach, as it is estimated to affect nearly half of the city’s wells and accounts for about $20 million in oil and gas revenue annually. The city has promised to stop oil operations by 2035, but the schedule can be accelerated if the law is implemented.