Documents leading to last month’s ousting of Ken Harris, the top oil regulator in the state, also reveal that state officials overseeing Ventura County’s oil and gas operations have investments in oil companies.
ConsumerWatchdog obtained the documents, called 700 forms, for various state oil and gas regulators. All public employees in decision-making positions are required to fill out a 700 form to report significant assets and investments. Reporting by the Desert Sun newspaper on the contents of those forms led to Gov. Gavin Newsom calling for Harris, then head of the California Department of Conservation (DOC), Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), to be fired. Jason Marshall has been named interim head of DOGGR.
The 700 forms reveal that two officials tasked with overseeing Ventura County’s oil and gas operations also have investments in fossil fuel companies. Pat Abel, based in the Orcutt DOGGR office, has stocks in Conoco Phillips (up to $100,000) and Phillips 66 (up to $100,000). Thomas Goeres, who reports to Abel, has stocks in Chevron (up to $100,000), Exxon Mobil (up to $10,000) and Schlumberger (up to $100,000). Goeres’ job description includes serving “as the lead auditor for pipeline management plans, oil and gas facility pipeline, tank and equipment maintenance records, audits, inspections and tests.” Goeres’ coverage area includes Ventura County.
According to DOGGR records, Chevron, Conoco Phillips and Phillips 66 are not currently active in Ventura County. Exxon Mobil is one of the parent companies of AERA Energy, which operates the Ventura Oil Field surrounding Ventura Avenue. That field is the largest oil field in the county and operates on a decades-old county land-use permit with no expiration date and no limit to the number of wells AERA can drill. DOGGR is the agency that reviews and approves all permits to drill for that oil field once Ventura County issues a zoning clearance to drill a well. This is a type of approval that does not require public notice, public hearing or a full review of environmental or health impacts.
Schlumberger is a global company with two offices in Ventura that conducts hydraulic fracturing and other well-completion activities.
“Conflict of interest policies, and a thorough review of employees’ financial interests, are under review,” said Donald Drysdale, from the DOC public affairs office, responding via email. He said the agency “cannot comment until that review is complete. In the meantime, per the governor’s direction, employees who have been identified with potential financial conflicts have been isolated from regulatory activities.”
When asked if any DOGGR staff overseeing Ventura County had been isolated from regulatory activities he said, “Our policies preclude us from providing the names at this time.”