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Gov. Jerry Brown fires state's top oil regulators

November 4, 2011 |  3:06 pm

Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaking at the capitol Thursday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated PressGov. Jerry Brown has fired the state’s top two oil and gas production regulators.

On Thursday, Derek Chernow, acting director of the California Department of Conservation, and Elena Miller, head of the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources, received pink slips from the administration.

Richard Stapler, a spokesman for the California Natural Resources Agency, confirmed the removals but declined to provide additional details, saying only that both officials “served at the pleasure of the governor.” Replacing Chernow is Clifford Rechtschaffen, a senior adviser to the governor on energy, environmental and agricultural issues and a former special assistant attorney general under Brown.

The ousters, first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, come as the oil industry spars with state regulators over delays in the permitting process for new drilling projects. According to Bloomberg, the state has granted permits to 14 projects this year out of 199 applications received.

Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Assn., applauded Brown’s actions, saying the industry has been at loggerheads with state regulators for two years. Miller, the ousted oil regulator, was a former lawyer for the California prison system appointed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It’s been very frustrating and very discouraging,” Reheis-Boyd said. “There was no interest in talking, no interest in solving and no interest in granting permits. …It’s hard to solve a problem when someone won’t tell you what the problem is.”

Miller reportedly had concerns with a method of oil extraction that uses the underground injection of steam, water and chemicals to bring crude to the surface. Last year, federal regulators recommended that the state strengthen its drilling rules to protect drinking water.

Reheis-Boyd said the drilling process was nothing new, and the industry had undertaken safeguards and complied with state regulations.

“It’s frustrating to see the resources the state has not being developed, the revenues not going to the state and the jobs not being created,” she said. “We want to move forward, get our permits and bring the product to market.”

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-- Michael J. Mishak in Sacramento

Photo: California Gov. Jerry Brown speaking at the Capitol on Thursday. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

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