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Gov. Gets State Oil Boss To Quit

By Tania Soussan
Journal Staff Writer
    The head of the state Oil Conservation Division has resigned her position at the request of Gov. Bill Richardson, who wants "to move in a new direction."
    Lori Wrotenbery stepped down March 12 but remains an employee of the division. She is in China on agency business and could not be reached for comment.
    Wrotenbery is widely respected in the oil and gas industry. But some think she is too close to the industry.
    "She was absolutely too soft on the industry," said Lovington City Manager Pat Wise. "She had absolutely no desire to enforce regulations."
    Lovington recently adopted new city regulations designed to protect its ground-water supply from contamination from oil and gas wells.
    "Had OCD been doing their job, we wouldn't have been forced to do this," Wise said.
    Jennifer Goldman, associate director of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project in New Mexico, said the division has reflected a bias toward industry in the past.
    "There's been problems in the field with the oil and gas for some time and I think the governor is starting to take that seriously," she said.
    But Bob Gallagher, president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said Wrotenbery was "very balanced" and the industry knew not to ask her for favors.
    Wrotenbery was considered throughout the country "one of the, if not the, most outstanding regulatory officials at a state level," he said.
    "The loss of Lori Wrotenbery is a significant loss to the entire state," he said, adding that it is the governor's privilege to choose his own division director.
    "The governor kept her on even though she was a holdover from the Johnson administration because he has a high regard for her abilities," said Richardson spokesman Billy Sparks. "The governor hopes to place her in the department in another position. The governor, however, does want to move in a new direction in the Oil Conservation Division."
    The division— which falls under the Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department— oversees policy and regulations relating to the oil, gas and geothermal industry. It issues permits for exploration and development and protects against waste and pollution of ground water and other resources.
    Wrotenbery took over the division in 1998 after 14 years at the Railroad Commission of Texas, where she had been deputy director for environmental services in the commission's oil and gas division.
    She is a founding member of the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc., or STRONGER, a nonprofit that helps states document the environmental regulations associated with oil and gas exploration, development and production.
    Wrotenbery has a law degree from Harvard Law School and undergraduate degrees in geology from the University of Texas in Austin and anthropology from Wellesley College in Massachusetts.
    Energy Cabinet Secretary Joanna Prukop is searching for a new division director.
    "The division director will work closely with the oil and gas companies to conserve and protect our natural resources while at the same time reinforcing the economic development potential of that industry," she said in a statement.