SAN FRANCISCO – A worker in the state oil and gas regulatory agency lodged a whistleblower’s complaint over being ordered to prepare a state map of the oil and gas potential, history and geology of California Gov. Jerry Brown’s family ranch, the worker and her attorney said Monday.
Jennie Catalano, a mapping specialist who has been with the state Department of Conservation for 18 years, brought the complaint. She contends she faced unspecified retaliation after being suspected of lodging the complaint over being directed to do the personal work for Brown, said her attorney, William Rehwald.
“I was asked to help her in part because she does feel that she’s being retaliated against because she’s a whistleblower,” Rehwald said.
State records obtained by The Associated Press show Brown in June 2014 directed senior officials at the Department of Conservation’s oil and gas regulatory agency to map, research and assess the oil, gas and mineral history and potential of his 2,700-acre family ranch in Northern California near Williams.
State law prohibits elected officials from using state resources for personal purposes. Spokesmen for Brown and the oil and gas agency say the governor is allowed to access public records the same as any member of the public, and say that oil and gas regulators routinely do such research for the public.
However, four oil-industry professionals and three former officials whose tenure with the state oil and gas agency spanned from the 1980s to 2013 told the AP they know of no other instance where the state performed that kind of satellite-imaged geology and drilling map, development assessment and compiling of state records for a private individual.
Brown’s request to oil regulators points to the complex way that the governor, an internationally known advocate of renewable energy, approaches oil and gas issues in his own state. While spearheading ambitious programs to curb the use of climate-changing fossil fuels, Brown also has sought to spur oil production in California, the country’s No. 3 oil-producing state.
Contacted at work, Catalano confirmed the whistleblower’s complaint but declined further comment. Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the Department of Conservation, declined to comment Monday, saying the agency did not comment on potential personnel matters.
Whistleblower complaints to the state are confidential and no other details were available including when the complaint was filed.
The state research on Brown’s ranch came to light in a lawsuit brought by farmers in Kern County, who allege Brown’s administration and the oil industry intentionally circumvented federal law meant to protect groundwater from oilfield pollution. The farmers’ lawyer, Patricia Oliver of the R. Rex Parris, is seeking to depose Catalano and other state oil and gas regulators.
The state attorney general’s office is contesting the law firm’s subpoenas. The attorney general’s office refused to comment Monday, referring questions to Brown’s office and the state oil and gas division.