Consumer Groups Want California Oil Regulators Fired Over Conflict Of Interest

By Tsvetana Paraskova

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Two consumer groups opposed to fossil fuels are calling on California’s Governor Gavin Newsom to fire supervisors at the state agency regulating oil drilling permits over a conflict of interest, after the consumer alliances found records showing that several regulators held shares in oil giants such as Exxon, Chevron, Valero, ConocoPhillips, Shell, and BP, The Desert Sun reports.

The groups Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance found through requests for public records that seven regulators employed by California’s Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) responsible for issuing drilling permits had personal investments in oil and gas companies, whose permits they are essentially regulating.

Consumer Watchdog and FracTracker Alliance asked Governor Newsom to fire those public servants for conflict of interests and to suspend the issuance of new drilling permits.

“We have uncovered outrageous conflicts of interest at the state agency charged with oil and gas well approval and inspections that endanger the public. Oil regulators should not be invested in the same oil companies that they regulate,” Consumer Watchdog president Jamie Court and the organization’s senior consumer advocate Adam Scow, as well as FracTracker Alliance’s executive director Brook Lenker, wrote, as carried by The Desert Sun.

A spokesman for the Newsom office told The Desert Sun that the governor’s office is aware of the allegations and is taking them seriously.

“If a public employee is found to have unethically profited from investments in an industry he or she regulates, that’s unacceptable,” the governor’s office spokesman Brian Ferguson told The Desert Sun.

One of the seven officials who had disclosed investments in oil firms responded to the outlet’s request for comment. The state agency’s deputy director of programs, David Gutierrez, told The Desert Sun that when he was hired less than two years ago, he told DOGGR officials that he held shares in Exxon and Magellan Midstream Partners and asked if he should divest those shares. Gutierrez was told he needn’t divest because California doesn’t regulate those two companies. After the two consumer groups requested information from the agency about the public records in late April, Gutierrez immediately sold the stocks and consulted the legal and ethics offices who told him “don’t worry about it,” the official told The Desert Sun.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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