President Obama nominates former petroleum engineer Sally Jewell to be the next interior secretary


The oil and gas industry is also eagerly awaiting the announcement of Obama’s nominee to lead the Energy Department during his administration’s second term.

On February 6, President Obama announced the nomination of Sally Jewell to succeed outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who recently announced that he will not serve a second term and intends to step down from his position in March.

Media reports indicate that she would bring an interesting set of qualifications to the position. Bloomberg BusinessWeek suggested that her nomination to lead the Interior Department offers “something for everyone,” from conservationists to advocates of expanded oil and gas drilling.

Hands-on experience in the energy industry cited as a positive

Jewell began her career as a petroleum engineer working for Mobil Oil, before it merged with Exxon to become one of the world’s largest corporations. Later, as the industry was experiencing a boom, she took a job evaluating energy-related assets at Rainier Bank. Eventually, she would become the head of the commercial banking unit at Washington Mutual.

Most recently, Jewell served as chief executive of Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI), a retailer of clothing and equipment for outdoors enthusiasts. Under her leadership, the company has expanded steadily and garnered considerable praise from the media. For instance, Fortune Magazine ranked REI eighth on its list of the “100 best companies to work for” in 2012.

After Jewell’s nomination to head the Department of the Interior was made official at a White House press conference on Wednesday, the Western Energy Alliance, a non-profit industry association, put out a press release emphasizing the value of her background and the importance of the job she would be filling.

Tim Wigley, the organization’s president, said that he believes Jewell’s “experience as a petroleum engineer and business leader will bring a unique perspective to an office that is key to our nation’s energy portfolio.”

Environmental consciousness: A concern to some, a key qualification to others

The other main “talking point” about Sally Jewell is that she appears to be committed to conservationist principles. At the press conference announcing her nomination, President Obama pointed to the fact that Jewell managed a profitable company while maintaining a high level of focus environmental issues as a unique qualification for her to become the next interior secretary.

The president described her as “an expert on the energy and climate issues that are going to shape our future.”

Interior Department will play ongoing role in shaping federal policy on fracking

As the overseer of more than 500 million acres of public land, the interior secretary plays a key role in regulating mining, drilling and other activities related to the development of the United States’ natural resources.

The Department of the Interior is currently in the middle of a contentious rule-making process, the outcome of which will likely have an impact on the U.S. energy industry for years to come. Specifically, the DOI is working to design the rules that will govern the use of fracking for oil and gas wells sited on land leased from the federal government.

According to the Bureau of Land Management, more than 6 million acres of public land were leased to oil and gas companies during President Obama’s first term in office. This has been cause for criticism on the part of conservationists, who are expected to push for an increase in the amount of protected land during the next four years.

Unfortunately, Jewell would begin her secretaryship in the middle of this conflict, although her familiarity with oil production equipment and industry practices would give her a head start on sorting out pertinent policy issues.