Oil and gas supervisor Grant Black resigns
— April 1, 2014
Less than a year on the job, Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission supervisor Grant Black agreed to resign on Monday, effective today. His resignation followed a special 2-hour executive session Monday morning. When Black was asked on Friday about the planned executive session, he’d reportedly said he had no idea what it was about.
His resignation was unanimously accepted by the five member oil and gas commission, which includes Gov. Matt Mead and is chaired by Wyoming Office of State Lands and Investments director Bridget Hill. Black did not return a request for comment.
Hours after news of the resignation, Gov. Mead issued a written statement; “The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission plays an integral role in Wyoming – it helps safeguard public safety and health while also facilitating the responsible development of natural gas and oil, which are key to the entire country and to our economy. I thank Grant for his efforts on these matters and wish him well.”
Mark Watson will serve as interim supervisor until the position is filled. Watson is lead petroleum engineer for the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (WOGCC), and was a candidate for the supervisor position in 2013. He has a degree in petroleum engineering from the University of Wyoming and has worked at the WOGCC for about 30 years.
Black came to the WOGCC in April 2013 after an extended 8-month search process, which initially attracted only a handful of qualified candidates. The previous supervisor, Tom Doll, was forced to resign in June 2012, after Environment and Energy reporter Mike Soraghan reported comments Doll made to his colleagues regarding concerns among Pavillion area residents about tainted groundwater in the Pavillion oil and gas field. “I really believe greed is driving a lot of this,” Doll had told a meeting of fellow state regulators in Vancouver, Canada. “I think they’re just looking to be compensated.”
In the spring of 2013, Black arrived to an agency that had long been viewed by the oil and gas industry as tough but fair, and with a long list of high-priority projects. In addition to the highly contentious Pavillion groundwater investigation, the agency was being forced to finally deal with the coal-bed methane gas industry’s lingering orphan well crisis in the Powder River Basin. Multiple bankruptcies had resulted in companies abandoning hundreds of wells, threatening human health and the environment.
In Black’s first appearance before the Legislature’s Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development interim committee, lawmakers made it clear they were not satisfied with the estimated 10-12 years it would take to properly plug and reclaim some 1,200 orphaned wells, let alone another 2,000 wells that would soon be added to the list. When Black returned to the committee in September, lawmakers were upset that he still hadn’t developed a more aggressive reclamation plan, as they’d asked.
“It was asked of you to bring to the committee a plan (to fully address this issue),” Rep. Tom Reeder (R-Casper) said in September. “We’re not experts, so we look to you. … I mean, we need a business plan. I’m very disappointed today.”
More recently, oil and gas commissioners pushed back against Black’s proposal to hold a series of “informal” meetings in anticipation of a rule-making process to update flaring, bonding, setbacks and other WOGCC standards and regulations. The landowner advocacy group, Powder River Basin Resource Council, also complained about Black’s informal meeting proposal.
“While we agree that unofficial discussion might be helpful to an agency in understanding and refining complex concepts for rulemaking, our board believes that shortcomings with the baseline water testing rulemaking may have stemmed from inconsistencies in the WOGCC’s handling of informal stakeholder comments,” PRBRC chairwoman Gillian Malone wrote in a letter to the WOGCC.
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