Mark Nechodom, director of the California Department of Conservation (DOC), resigned suddenly Friday in the midst of increasing legal and political challenges alleging conspiracies and lack of oversight of the oil and natural gas industry.

Nechodom sent a one-paragraph letter to Resources Agency head John Laird, saying that he was leaving his job but giving no reasons for the departure. The letter came within days of a federal lawsuit that named Nechodom, Gov. Jerry Brown and major oil/gas producers, alleging a conspiracy between the state and the industry that violated federal racketeering laws (see Daily GPI, June 5).

A DOC spokesperson told NGI Monday that Jason Marshall, chief deputy director at DOC, will fill in as interim director until a permanent replacement is named.

In his letter of resignation, Nechodom thanked Brown and his co-workers, saying he was appreciative of the chance to help "guide [the department] through a difficult time."

Nechodom was named to the DOC directorship as part of a shakeup Brown made in the state's oil/gas regulatory leadership in 2011. In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Brown's 2011 firing of the interim head of DOC and the head of its Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) are cited as being in response to alleged industry pressure (see Daily GPI, Nov. 10, 2011).

Laird announced Nechodom's departure to state workers on Friday, but he would not elaborate on details, citing confidential personnel issues.

Along with being named in the federal racketeering lawsuit, Nechodom has been the focus of state legislators' ire at public hearings in Sacramento. The lawmakers have been critical of DOC’s and DOGGR's handling of oil industry wastewater injection well practices, which are regulated by the state under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have been critical of DOGGR's handling of wastewater injection wells and missed deadlines for reporting from the state, and that in turn has sparked increased concerns among lawmakers in Sacramento.

Rex Parris, an attorney representing the Committee to Protect Our Agricultural Water, which filed the federal racketeering lawsuit, told the Los Angeles Times that Nechodom's naming in the legal action prompted the resignation, and he predicted that more heads will roll in state government.