By MICHAEL J. MISHAK
Los Angeles Times
Published: Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012 – 12:00 am Last Modified: Sunday, Jan. 29, 2012 – 12:02 pm
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Late last year, California Gov. Jerry Brown pushed for a top state regulator to ease key requirements for companies seeking to tap California’s oil. The official balked.
Relaxing rules on underground injection, a risky method of oil extraction common in the state, would violate environmental laws, wrote Derek Chernow, then head of the Department of Conservation, in a memo obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
The process, in which a rush of steam, water and chemicals flushes oil from old wells, had been linked to spills, eruptions and a Kern County worker’s death. The federal government had asked the state to tighten its regulations, but the oil industry complained that the stringent rules were killing jobs.
A week after Chernow wrote his memo, Brown had him fired, along with a deputy, Elena Miller. The governor appointed replacements who agreed to stop subjecting every injection project to a top-to-bottom review before issuing a permit.
Brown’s decision to side with energy interests over his regulators reflects the economic and political pressures on the governor during his return engagement in Sacramento.