Business

Thursday, Nov 03 2011 10:33 PM

Governor removes DOGGR supervisor from her post

By RACHEL COOK Californian staff writer rcook@bakersfield.com

The head of the state agency responsible for permitting and regulating crucial oil operations was removed from her post by the governor Thursday.

Elena Miller had been the top person at the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources since September 2009. Her boss, Derek Chernow, the acting director of the California Department of Conservation, was also removed.

"Both appointees served at the pleasure of the governor and were thanked for their service this evening," Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown's office, wrote in an email Thursday night.

Miller's time as DOGGR supervisor was marked by tensions between her office and the industry it regulated.

A lawyer regarded as an outsider unfamiliar with the technical side of the oil industry by some, Miller introduced lengthier scrutiny to underground injection projects, according to Californian reports. DOGGR has also been hesitant to allow high-pressure steam injection projects in the aftermath of a Chevron employee's June death in a oil field sinkhole. DOGGR representatives also said Miller was concerned that injections can pollute water sources and cause oil and fluids to leak to the surface.

The governor's move was hailed by state Sen. Michael Rubio, D-Shafter, and Les Clark, executive vice president of the Independent Oil Producers Agency, as recognition of the difficulties facing the oil industry.

"I think the governor made the right move and I appreciate that," Clark said. "You look through the process, there's a lot of permits that are being hung up."

Rubio, who has battled Miller over DOGGR's reluctance to permit new oil and gas operations in the state, praised Brown's decision, calling it "a clear sign the governor is engaged and committed to solving this issue."

"(DOGGR has) not been willing to partner with the private sector to create a clear permitting process," Rubio said.

And that, he said, has resulted in a lack of investment in oil and gas and the creation of jobs. He said that cost the state $10 to $12 million in tax revenues in recent months -- not to mention the impact to Kern County.

"We have worked diligently with the governor's administration to reduce the roadblocks for the oil and gas industries to receive permits," Rubio said in a news release. "As we all know, in Kern County, permits equal jobs."

Clark also applauded Brown's move, saying it could have been spurred by jobs and the economy. Clark said he thinks the next person to lead DOGGR should bring a common-sense approach to the job.

"I think we need to re-evaluate and work through the process," Clark said.

DOGGR spokesman Don Drysdale could not be reached for comment.

It was unclear Thursday night who would fill the DOGGR supervisor job, and whether a decision had been made.

Chernow will be replaced by Cliff Rechtschaffen, a senior advisor on energy, environmental and agricultural issues to the Governor's Office, according to Richard Stapler, spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency.

Rechtschaffen served as a special assistant attorney general for 2007 to 2010 during Brown's tenure as attorney general, and taught at Golden Gate University School of Law from 1993 to 2007.

-- Staff writer James Burger con tributed to this report.

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