Uduak-Joe Ntuk, the state’s top oil and gas regulator, resigned last week after three years of his job amid a statewide fight over the future of fossil fuels, California officials confirmed Wednesday.
Ntuk, a former Chevron engineer and Los Angeles oil czar, was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2019 to head the California Department of Geoenergy Management.
“We are grateful for Mr. Ntuk’s service and contributions to CalGEM and the state over the past three years,” said Conservation Director David Shabazian.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Ntuk said he was resigning to focus on his family and continue his career.
“I’m incredibly proud of the work we’ve done at CalGEM over the past three years, especially enacting the toughest regulations in the nation to protect communities of color from oil drilling and moving toward ending the practice of fracking in California , and secured more than $100 million in state and federal funding to address the state’s century-long orphan oil well challenge,” Ntuk said.
His departure comes after the department began imposing a ban on neighborhood drilling that oil and gas industry groups are trying to overturn through a referendum. Lawmakers last year passed a ban on drilling within 3,200 feet (960 meters) of schools, homes and other community sites. Ntuk’s agency has previously started the regulatory process Similar restrictions are in place, but some environmental groups say it is too long.
Ntuk is leading the change at the agency, which oversees and licenses oil and gas drilling. The ministry, formerly known as the Ministry of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, has long been criticized for being too lax in the industries it regulates.
But Newsom, a Democrat, took office in 2019 promising to take a tougher stance against oil and gas companies as he pushes for aggressive climate policy.A few months into his tenure, he fired the head of the department Among the rising number of permits for the oil and gas extraction process known as fracking and allegations that some employees hold stock in companies they oversee. Newsom also changed the department’s name.
Since then, the department has started denying fracking permits Based on climate change and health concerns.
But environmental watchdog groups say the number of permits for conventional oil drilling climbs in late 2022 as the state nears a ban on neighborhood oil drilling. Although the state has begun implementing the law, it could be put on hold if a referendum is approved to go to voters in 2024. State officials will soon determine eligibility to vote.
“We will be watching the Newsom administration closely to see if they make the appropriate changes to keep CalGEM on track,” Cesar Aguirre, a community organizer with the Central California Environmental Justice Network, said in a statement.
Oil and gas industry groups did not comment on Ntuk’s resignation.
Gabe Tiffany, principal deputy director of the Department of Environmental Protection, serves as the state’s interim oil and gas director. Ntuk is the first African-American to lead the department.
Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.
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