Mark Watson named Wyoming's next oil-and-gas supervisor

2014-05-14T05:37:00Z Mark Watson named Wyoming's next oil-and-gas supervisorBy BENJAMIN STORROW Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette

CASPER, Wyo. — The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission named Mark Watson the state's next oil-and-gas supervisor on Tuesday, ending a turbulent period atop the state agency charged with regulating the oil-and-gas industry.

Watson becomes the third person to hold the post in two years. His predecessor, Grant Black, abruptly resigned in March after almost a year in the job. Tom Doll resigned from the job a year earlier after saying Pavillion-area landowners who believed their water was contaminated by nearby natural gas operations were motivated by greed.

In choosing Watson, the commission turned to a longtime employee of the OGCC. Watson, who was a finalist for the supervisor's position in 2012, is a 32-year veteran of the state agency. Black, by contrast, was the director of governmental relations at Tulsa-based Samson Resources and served as Arkansas' top oil-and-gas regulator before coming to Wyoming.

Watson was named interim supervisor in the wake of Black's resignation. He assumes the supervisor's post at a time when the state is implementing new rules on baseline water testing near oil and gas wells, closing abandoned coalbed methane wells in the Powder River Basin and considering new regulations on the minimum distance between oil and gas operations and residences.

He will make $150,000 annually.

Gov. Matt Mead, who sits on the oil-and-gas commission, said it was important for the state to quickly fill the post given the amount of work the commission is facing and the recent turnover in leadership. Watson's appointment will bring stability to the OGCC and enable the agency to move forward with initiatives like the setback review and the plugging program, he said.

"The value of Mark is we know him. The staff knows him," Mead said. "The staff has a high degree of respect for him."

The reason for Black's departure has not been disclosed, but the former supervisor had a sometimes frosty relationship with legislators and commission members, who chafed at his approach to rewriting the rules governing setbacks, flaring and well bonding.

Watson's appointment was cheered by industry and environmental interests alike.

John Robitaille, vice president of the Petroleum Association of Wyoming, said Watson's experience would be an asset.

"We're very pleased with his appointment and have the utmost confidence he will continue the tradition of excellence in the position," Robitaille said.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a Sheridan-based landowners group that has pushed for increased setback requirements and curbs on flaring, among other measures, took to Twitter, writing: "We look forward to working with Mark Watson to address the impacts of people living with oil & gas development in WY."

The commission announced it will also create the position of deputy supervisor to help meet that workload. Mead said the position is being created to help deal with an increased workload due to new rules on baseline water testing, the setback review and plugging program.

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