The first person in decades to hold the title of Los Angeles city petroleum administrator comes from the oil and gas industry but has a streak of environmentalism and democratic politics on his resume as well.
Uduak-Joe Ntuk started his career in petroleum engineering at Chevron and has worked in recent years at Long Beach city's Gas and Oil Department, an agency some local activists have issues with.
"We feel that the department is very non-transparent, in terms of who is it that you could call within the city around oil and gas," said Gisele Fong. She chairs Building Healthy Communities Long Beach Environmental Health Workgroup, a collaborative made up of local advocacy nonprofit groups.
Los Angeles city officials created the new petroleum position because they realized earlier this year that nobody at City Hall had expertise to advise them on new policies — such as a proposed ban on fracking.
The city had not had a full-time person in that position for decades. In the meantime, the city's oil and gas leases had been administered by an analyst working part-time. But that person had no specific expertise in oil and gas.
Environmentalists had pressed the city to hire someone with a public health background, while industry figures were urging Mayor Eric Garcetti to give the job to someone with oil and gas expertise.
Garcetti chose someone who, on paper, might appeal to both sides.
When he starts his job Oct. 3, Ntuk comes to a city that, like Long Beach, is dotted with oil wells, some very close to homes. Los Angeles' Porter Ranch community was the site of the nation's worst-ever natural gas leak.
Ntuk did not respond to requests for comment.
His new job is monitoring oil company compliance with city leases and with state and federal regulations. He's also supposed to work with Angelenos who live near oil wells and have issues with fumes, sound and other consequences from fossil fuel extraction. He would also take a role in monitoring several natural gas storage fields, like the one that leaked last year near Porter Ranch.
He will head up the Petroleum and Natural Gas Administration and Safety office, part of the city's Public Works Department.
The California Independent Petroleum Association, which represents many of the companies whose oil and gas wells dot Los Angeles, wrote the mayor asking that he appoint someone who had a technical background. It wanted a person who would understand how changes in city policies could affect those who work in the local petroleum industry and earn royalties from oil and gas wells. In a letter, CIPA CEO Rock Zierman said the mayor should appoint a person who would recognize inaccurate information about local petroleum operations coming from industry critics.
Western States Petroleum Association spokesman Sam Chung also praised the appointment.
The environmental group Stand L.A. questioned the appointment because Ntuk doesn't have a background in public health.
Still, other groups have looked beyond Ntuk's professional resume to his political and environmental activities.
"We are cautiously optimistic," said Martha Arguello, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility Los Angeles, an environmental advocacy group. "We were concerned that they would hire someone who was just so steeped in the petroleum industry that it could be difficult for them to understand just how pernicious it is [to live near oil or gas operations]."
Arguello said she was encouraged that Ntuk did not stay a long time in the petroleum industry and had been involved in various environmental organizations.
Ntuk grew up in Long Beach, played football for St. Anthony High in Long Beach, and was in student government at Cal State Long Beach, where he majored in Chemical Engineering. He got his master's degree in petroleum engineering at USC.
He's active in democratic party politics. He narrowly lost his run for a seat on the Long Beach Unified School District board in 2014. He was endorsed by the local newspaper, the Press-Telegram, and lost to an opponent who had the endorsement of the local teacher's union.
Ntuk also has a list of volunteer gigs and fellowships at environmental organizations, including one where he says he was trained by Al Gore to talk about solutions to global warming.