EL CENTRO — Expecting to hear updates and/or constructive news from the California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) officials, the Imperial County Board of Supervisors were surprised after the department informed the local office in El Centro would be permanently closing January 31.
California Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources Deputy Directors Dan Dudak and Charlene Wardlow were scheduled to make a special presentation during Tuesday’s regular board meeting when the announcement was made.
DOGGR oversees the drilling, operation, maintenance, and plugging and abandonment of oil, natural gas, and geothermal wells. The regulatory program emphasizes the wise development of oil, natural gas, and geothermal resources in the state through sound engineering practices that protect the environment, prevent pollution, and ensure public safety.
The presentation began with Dudak explaining the department’s mission, functions, and involvement with monitoring geothermal production in Imperial County.
He continued to elaborate on the department’s current staffing and recent reorganization and then he announced the California Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources would be closing.
“In October of 2015 the department released to the California Legislature an extensive and specific renewal plan for the division which talked about how the division could move forward in the future as a modern state agency,” explained Dudak. “One of the audits involved the El Centro Geothermal Office and based on that audit we found it was difficult to support the amount of staffing.”
Currently the staff at the El Centro office consists of two engineers and one clerical staff.
“Even though the El Centro office will be closing, it doesn’t mean the division will be abandoning Imperial County,” said Dudak. “We are going to maintain our presence here. We are simply consolidating our field offices that will give us a better control of the operation in Imperial County.”
Displeased with the announcement, District-4 Supervisor Ryan Kelley said closing the office was sending the wrong message since the county is promoting geothermal energy.
“This doesn’t seem like the right message,” said Kelley. “We are trying to promote geothermal. We’re trying to get the state of California to recognize it as a valuable renewable resource and put it on parity with other renewables, and then closing this office in Imperial County seems like a policy message that we didn’t want to hear.”
Dudak replied, saying developers in Imperial County will have the ability to communicate via Skype with over 70 engineers, hydrologists, geologists, as well as support staff in the company’s Cypress office located in Orange County.
“Today you have a resource of 70 engineers,” said Dudak. “Yes, it’s farther away, but we have a lot more resources and a lot more personnel dedicated to Imperial County.”
Dudak also said if activities increased in the Valley, there was a possibility the office would reopen in the future.
Kelley said even though it would make it efficient for DOGGR to manage the resources remotely, it would not benefit where the productivity was taking place.
“It seems this is the policy of the state and I think they are not taking this seriously, like we would like them to,” said Kelley.
Controlled Thermal Resources Representative Jim Turner, who is currently developing a 280-megawatt geothermal plant north of Red Hill Bay in the Salton Sea area, said he was concerned with the office closing.
“The office has been of great help to the geothermal industry and I hate to see it go away,” said Turner. “I do appreciate the technology to interface with the 70 plus people in the LA area, but it’s not quite the same as standing next to one of their folks in the Salton Sea area when you are trying to address an issue or a development opportunity. I can also appreciate that they are trying to be efficient with their finances. I know it’s a balancing act. Hopefully this office gets to be reopened.”
Kelley suggestion the board draft a letter to the Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency John Laird, who oversees the Department of Conservation expressing the importance of keeping the office in Imperial County and the concerns over issues that might arise in the future which will need the presence of DOGGR staff. The board voted 4-0 in favor.
The office closure also came as surprise news to the IID members who also received news the DOGGR office in El Centro would be closing January 31.
“It is hard not to view this budgetary decision by the Natural Resources Agency as a setback,” said Kevin Kelley, IID general manager. “Here we are with what is arguably the world’s largest untapped geothermal resource at the Salton Sea, and the state can’t see fit to keeping the doors of its local office open for business? This just seems terribly shortsighted to me.”