SACRAMENTO, CA — Environmental justice advocates gathered outside the California Natural Resources building today for a protest urging Governor Newsom to appoint someone with a public health and legal background to head up the state oil regulator California Geological Energy Management (CalGEM). Uduak-Joe Ntuck, who was head of the agency since 2019, abruptly stepped down this month following a dramatic spike in drilling permits. In the last quarter of 2022, just before leaving the scandal-ridden agency, he approved more than 1000 permits, of which at least 100 were new permits that allow operators to drill for oil in communities. This represents a 754% uptick from the same quarter in 2021. 


Dozens of advocates performed street theater, made speeches and called on Gov. Newsom to prioritize environmental justice and public health when filling the vacancy at the agency. Organizers installed a revolving door prop in front of the agency that rotated to reveal the word “Regulators” on one side and “Big Oil” on the other to highlight the need to end the “revolving door” of industry insiders serving as regulators. 


Download photos & videos of the action.


The protest was set against the backdrop of Chevron’s announcement that they will launch a massive $75 billion share buyback to further enrich their shareholders ahead of the Q4 earnings report due tomorrow. Advocates encouraged Gov Newsom, who has been escalating his rhetoric with the oil industry over price gouging at the pump, to get his rogue agency back on track and end the vicious cycle of industry insiders serving as irresponsible regulators. 


We want Gov. Newsom to follow through on his commitment to end fossil fuel extraction. This is a critical moment that will shape California’s climate future.


“Counts of new drilling permits in neighborhoods and frontline communities saw an unprecedented increase in the last quarter of 2022. The policies that allowed that to happen increased the risk of birth defects, asthma, and cancer for marginalized communities of color.” said Kyle Ferrar, Coordinator at FracTracker Alliance. “Governor Newsom’s choice for a new CalGEM Director will signal whether or not California continues to prioritize Big Oil profits over the lives of black and brown Californians.”


“We showed up today to send a message,” said Zoe Jonick, People vs. Fossil Fuels Organizer at 350 Bay Area. “If Newsom continues to appoint Big Oil and Gas people to the division responsible for keeping Oil and Gas in line, we’re going to keep getting drilling sites in our backyards. We need officials that will prioritize public health and safety above the interests of the fossil fuel industry – as is their duty to Californians.”


“We have an opportunity to change the direction of this agency towards enacting the state’s climate goals and protecting the health of Californians,” said Ilonka Zlatar, Climate Justice Organizer with Oil and Gas Action Network. “CalGEM has the authority to stop issuing problematic permits –especially in residential areas– right now, if their leadership willed it and was not connected with oil companies. It is time to break the cycle of the revolving door cycle and finally separate oil and state.”


“The revolving door between Big Oil and California’s oil and gas regulator has been spinning for far too long,” said Theo LeQuesne, a campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “Now that a former Chevron employee has made his exit as CalGEM’s director, Gov. Newsom has a chance to align the agency with his own climate goals. California needs an oil and gas regulator who’ll put people’s health over oil bosses’ profits and protect our climate by ending new drilling permits now.”


“For many years, we have been accumulating scientific data that indicate a strong association between living in proximity to oil drilling sites and a host of health effects, including risky birth outcomes and asthma – all the while,  babies have been born prematurely and children with asthma have had to fight for their breath,” said Barbara Sattler, RN, Professor Emeritus,University of San Francisco. “It’s time to heed the science, protect our children’s health, and put a public health-oriented official in charge of CalGEM.”Today we demonstrated in front of the CalGEM office to indicate our frustration with the state’s cavalier and dangerous approach to regulating oil drilling in our state. The time has come for CalGEM to stop issuing new permits, start evaluating the health risks posed by the current permits and existing wells, and take the public’s health seriously.”