Interior Department sees leadership shuffle

WASHINGTON — A top Interior Department official who helped oversee the restructuring of the federal agency that regulates offshore drilling following the Deepwater Horizon disaster is leaving his post.

Tommy Beaudreau, now the acting assistant secretary of Land and Minerals Management, and the director of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, is expected to be tapped to oversee the Interior’s budget and policy office, according to sources familiar with the move.

Beaudreau would take over the Office of Policy, Management and Budget from Rhea Suh, who has held the position since 2009. President Barack Obama late yesterday nominated Suh to be assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks.

Beaudreau’s expected move marks just the latest shuffle among the nation’s top drilling regulators in Washington, D.C., beginning with the installation of Interior secretary in April.

Since then, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement that oversees offshore drilling has changed leadership, and the Bureau of Land Management that regulates oil and gas activity on federal lands awaits a permanent director. Neil Kornze has been acting director of the BLM since February.

The leadership changes come as the agencies are in the midst of writing a suite of new rules for oil and gas development on federal lands and waters, including specific standards to govern activity in the Arctic, new mandates for hydraulically fractured wells and requirements for emergency equipment used offshore.

It is unclear who ultimately will be nominated as assistant secretary of Land and Minerals Management, though reports have focused on Janice Schneider, an environmental lawyer who previously served as a top Interior aide.

Beaudreau has earned praise from both the oil industry and environmental activists during his tenure heading the ocean energy bureau — a role that put him at the forefront of decisions on Arctic drilling and what coastal waters should be leased for energy development.

One oil company lobbyist described him as an “honest broker” who listens to industry’s concerns, even though decisions may ultimately swing another way.

Others noted that Beaudreau would bring his offshore energy experience to the policy management and budget office, which has a decisive role assembling the Interior Department’s spending plan.

Beaudreau declined to comment.

Beaudreau played a decisive role in assembling the five-year offshore oil and gas leasing plan spanning 2012 to August 2017, including decisions to tentatively schedule some lease sales of Arctic waters and rule out Atlantic auctions.

He has repeatedly highlighted the importance of the Gulf of Mexico for energy development, calling it the “crown jewel” of U.S. offshore oil and gas activity. Outside the Gulf, he has stressed the need to balance oil and gas development with marine life and other activities, including subsistence fishing in the Arctic and Defense Department work in Atlantic waters. He led the Interior Department’s review of Shell’s headline-grabbing 2012 drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas north of Alaska.

He took the helm of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management when it was first created in October 2011. In the year before that, he had been one of the major players reorganizing the former Minerals Management Service that previously policed energy development, oversaw leasing and managed royalty collection. Before working at Interior, Beaudreau was a partner at the law firm Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobsen LLP.

Although Beaudreau had no oil and gas experience before joining the Interior Department, he grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, while his father worked for an oil exploration company on the North Slope.