Mark Nechodom, the controversial director of the California Department of Conservation, the agency that oversees the Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR), resigned on Thursday, June 4.
DOGGR is the agency charged with regulating the state’s oil and gas industry. Governor Jerry Brown in 2011 appointed Nechodom, who is considered very friendly to the oil industry, to the post in order to expedite permits for oil drilling in Kern County and elsewhere.
The agency has faced increasing scrutiny from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) after permitting oil companies conducting steam injection and fracking operations to drill thousands of oilfield wastewater disposal wells into protected aquifers.
The Committee to Protect Agricultural Water, a citizen organization comprised of Central Valley farmers and “individuals concerned about California’s drinking water,” filed a civil Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) complaint in Federal Court on June 3, the day before Nechodom resigned.
The RICO Complaint claims that Governor Jerry Brown’s office ordered the DOGGR to approve permits to inject contaminated water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The lawsuit alleges that “The Oil Companies, Governor’s Office, Director of Conservation Mark Nechodom, State Oil & Gas Supervisor Tim Kustic, Director of the Kern County Planning and Development Department Lorelei Oviatt, DOGGR, WSPA, CIPA, and others known and unknown, formed an “enterprise” (“the Enterprise”) to achieve through illegal means the goal of increasing oil production and maximizing profits and tax revenue by allowing the Oil Companies to inject salt water into fresh water in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
That’s not the only suit filed challenging the agency’s “permits to pollute.” A lawsuit filed on May 7 by Earthjustice in Alameda County Superior Court, on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club, challenged recently unveiled “underground injection control” regulations from DOGGR.
“The regulations allow oil companies to continue injecting oil industry wastewater and other fluids into protected aquifers until February 2017, in violation of state and federal law and despite a water-scarcity crisis caused by the worst drought on record,” according to a statement from the groups. “DOGGR pushed the rules through in just a few days, characterizing inconvenience to the oil industry from interrupting its illegal injections as a public ’emergency.'” (See interactive map.)
Nechodom told lawmakers earlier this year that regulators “all fell down” in protecting the state’s water supplies.
Jason Marshall, the Conservation Department’s Chief Deputy Director, will head the tainted department while a permanent replacement is sought.
Attorney Rex Parris, whose law firm filed the RICO lawsuit, said in a written statement Friday, “We are not surprised that Nechodom resigned a day after the filing of this lawsuit. We are confident he is just one of many resignations to come.”
Mark Schlosberg, organizing director with Food and Water Watch, a member organization of Californians Against Fracking, responded to the resignation by saying it points to the larger failure by the Brown administration to protect California’s water and air.
“When it comes to ensuring the public’s health and protecting our water and air, Jerry Brown has failed,” said Schlosberg. “Mark Nechodom is one of many in the Brown Administration who have looked the other way as oil companies inject poison into underground drinking water, spill oil onto our beaches and spew methane into the air.”