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U.S. Interior Secretary Nominee is a Former Fracker

President Obama's nominee for Interior secretary, Sally Jewell, former CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc. (REI), told a Senate panel Thursday that she can do something that probably no other department nominee could: hydraulically fracture (frack) a well.

"It's been awhile since I fracked a well. I think [it was] 1979, but the principles are still the same," she said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday.

Jewell's background in the oil and gas industry is extensive. She said she worked on Alaska's oil pipeline in the mid-1970s, was a petroleum engineer for Exxon Mobil Corp. predecessor Mobil Oil, and spent 19 years as a banking expert addressing natural resources issues. She then moved on to REI, where she became CEO of the $2 billion outdoor equipment company in 2005. She's probably the only would-be Interior secretary that has actually fracked a well. The president announced her nomination in early February (see Daily GPI, Feb. 7).

"I have a commitment to the president's all-of-the-above energy strategy," Jewell said. Natural gas is one of the most significant resources on federal lands, and renewable fuel is a "very, very important resource to be tapped on public lands," Jewell said.

Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) supported Jewell's nomination, but Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, the ranking member on the panel, was less than enthusiastic. "We need you to affirm that public lands provide not just a playground for recreational enthusiasts, but also paychecks for countless energy producers, miners, loggers and ranchers," she said.

"We know that we are blessed with amazing reserves and resources on our federal lands. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the level of activity and action that we would like on that," Murkowski said.

Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) asked Jewell whether she would allow Interior to take a states-first approach to fracking on public lands.

As a result of her industry background, she said she understands that "it's important to bring certainty and clarity to industry. Industry doesn't mind the rules. They just want to know what the rules are."

Jewell also was questioned about whether she would recuse herself if one of the 59 pending lawsuits brought by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), for which she serves as a board member, creates a conflict of interest with department policies. "I have nothing to do with (NPCA's) litigation strategy," she told the Senate committee.

The NPCA has weighed in on the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) fracking rule, calling on the agency to dramatically expand the scope of the rule to make it harder for oil and gas producers to drill on public lands. If there was a conflict of interest between the NPCA and the BLM fracking rule, "I would approach the appropriate ethics counsel" on the issue, Jewell said.

She said she would be "delighted" to worked with members of the Senate panel on a bipartisan proposal that would address the sharing of offshore revenues between the federal government and coastal producing states. "I think revenue [sharing] is clearly an important topic."

Climate change is also an important issue for the United States, Jewell said. "I look forward to tapping the vast scientific resources of the Department of Interior...to understand and prepare for the impacts of climate change...There is no question in my mind that climate change is real."

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