US energy sector gives cautions welcome to Jewell at Interior

06 February 2013 17:34  [Source: ICIS news]

WASHINGTON (ICIS)--US energy sector officials on Wednesday gave cautious welcome to news that President Barack Obama has picked Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI) chief executive and petroleum engineer Sally Jewell to head the Interior Department.

Obama was expected to announce Jewell’s nomination at the White House on Wednesday afternoon.  If confirmed by the Senate, she would succeed outgoing Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

Jewell has been president of REI since 2005 and has served in other executive and board positions with the company since 1996.

Jewell was born in the UK and moved with her physician father and family to the US in 1959 when she was a toddler.

She received a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Washington and later worked for Mobil Oil. She subsequently spent several years in the financial sector as an oil and natural gas expert.

Tim Wigley, president of the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), said Jewell’s move to the Interior Department would be a welcome development.

“Her 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,” he said.

WEA represents some 400 companies engaged in natural gas exploration and development in western states.

Among other things, the Interior Department oversees oil and natural gas drilling on federal offshore and onshore lands. 

During the four years of Obama’s first term, his administration and Salazar’s policy moves came under broad and often heated criticism from the energy and refining sectors. Obama and Salazar were accused of advancing alternative energy projects, such as wind farms and solar arrays, while suppressing oil and gas development on federal lands.

Reflecting that criticism, Wigley said: “We hope to see a better balance of productive development on … public lands that enhances the wealth of America and creates jobs while protecting the environment.”

Jewell also is known as a devoted environmentalist.

Jim Noe, director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, said his offshore development group was “encouraged by the selection of Sally Jewell as nominee for secretary of the Interior Department”.

He said Jewell is “a woman with experience in the energy industry as a petroleum engineer and who, as a CEO, knows what it means to run a business and answer to stakeholders”.

Citing broad predictions of possible US energy independence within a decade, Noe said that “if we are to reach that goal, it is imperative that we make more efficient use of our natural resources”.

“Ms Jewell’s resume suggests that she may be well-suited to improving the efficiency of our nation’s energy regulatory regime while ensuring the continued practice of safe and environmentally conscious energy production,” he added.

Jewell’s confirmation by the US Senate does not appear to be in great doubt, although her approval by that chamber cannot be assumed.

Senator Lisa Murkowski (Republican-Alaska) said that she was curious “about the qualifications Ms Jewell has that make her a suitable candidate to run such an important agency”.

Murkowski, who has had frequent conflicts with the department and Salazar over energy policy in her home state and elsewhere in the US, said she wants to learn how Jewell “plans to restore balance to the Interior Department”.

By: Joe Kamalick
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