California's recently streamlined oil/gas drilling permits process has been achieved after warnings about the use of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) were stifled and two top state officials were fired by Gov. Jerry Brown, according to a front-page report in Sunday's Los Angeles Times.
The firings and the newly accelerated permitting process have been reported for the past month in industry trade publications (see Daily GPI, Jan. 27). The LA Times reported the story after uncovering an internal memo from one of the fired employees, Derek Chernow, former director of the California Department of Conservation.
Brown fired Chernow and Elena Miller, the state oil and gas supervisor under Chernow, within a week after Chernow wrote a memo criticizing the permitting process. Brown's replacements have not subjected every proposed fracking permit to what critics consider comprehensive reviews (see Daily GPI, Nov. 10, 2011).
The state's new secretary of natural resources, John Laird, has told news media that the Brown administration is attempting to "balance" good environmental protection and economic growth. Laird contends that the law allows discretion and that is what Brown's people are stressing.
State oil/gas officials indicated that since mid-November, 77 permits that were on hold have been approved. In speeches at renewable energy and other projects since then, Brown has stressed that expedited permitting is working, noting that speeding up the process statewide long term "will not be easy" and there will be "screw ups," but overall the economy and job creation will be better off.
Most of the oil and gas industry has been praising the governor for his moves. Those officials include the CEO of Occidental Petroleum, Stephen Chazen, and the heads of the Western States Petroleum Association and the Independent Oil Producers Association.
Nevertheless, Chernow in his memo argued that streamlined permitting violates state and federal rules requiring complete state review before a fracking operation can start. He wrote that environmentalists will continue to argue that the requirements are intended to prevent any environmental or other damage before it can ever get started.