Q&A

This Interior official sees 'national bias' against oil, gas

Scott Angelle, President Trump's top offshore drilling regulator, hasn't let a public rebuke from HBO's John Oliver stop him from giving out his mobile work number to industry connections.

In fact, the 57-year-old head of the Interior Department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement takes pride in being available to the oil and gas sector, as well as state and local leaders, tribal leaders, and nongovernmental organizations.

"My business cellphone number is on my business card," Angelle told E&E News during a recent phone interview. "And so it should be."

Angelle during the interview also defended his work and Interior's move to roll back Obama-era offshore drilling regulations, discussed Trump's push for "energy dominance," and declined to outline his views on climate change.

Last year, "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" took aim at Angelle in a piece that blasted Trump for putting former lobbyists in administration posts instead of working to "drain the swamp." Oliver also homed in on BSEE, noting two previous leaders who had Coast Guard backgrounds, given the bureau's focus on safety. Oliver said Trump departed from that to choose Angelle, whom the TV host called "aggressively pro-drilling."

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Oliver then showed a clip of Angelle providing his cellphone number to attendees of an oil and gas conference in 2017 in Lafayette, La., where he said, "I'd rather you call me. Everything you text to me is a public record, so be careful." And he said, "This is a business opportunity for you to engage with me on what you believe we ought to be about."

Calling Angelle's comments "outrageous," Oliver accused the BSEE head of attempting to avoid the public record.

Today, Angelle still has the same number, even after Oliver gave it out to millions of viewers. Angelle called it transparent to put it on his business card. He said he also gets texts. Being available is part of public service, Angelle said.

The kerfuffle has also reached Capitol Hill, where Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) requested Angelle's phone records last year as ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee and again this year as chairman. The committee has obtained phone records and is now reviewing them.

Angelle's career has bled into both the public and private sectors. Before joining Interior in May 2017, the Louisiana native served as a member of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. He was appointed interim lieutenant governor in 2010 during the height of the BP PLC oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He also served as secretary of Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources and at one time was a member of the board at Sunoco Logistics Partners LP.

Angelle grabbed national attention when he switched political parties — from Democratic to Republican — in 2010 after the explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig and oil spill at BP's Macondo well. He criticized the Obama administration over the effects of a drilling moratorium in the Gulf that followed the well blowout and rig disaster, which killed 11 workers and led to the massive oil spill.

He lost bids to be Louisiana's governor in 2015 and congressman for the 3rd District. But he did win a Louisiana crawfish-eating contest in 2000, pounding down about 18 pounds of boiled crawfish in 45 minutes.

"If we're really talking about qualifications, there you go, right?" the BSEE director quipped.

Angelle talked to E&E News about his mission at Interior, why he thinks oil and gas are getting a bad rap and why he misses Louisiana:

You've talked about BSEE as an industry partner. What would you say to critics who say that you're too pro-industry?

First of all, I would say that there are critics. And critics are going to be critics, and I get that.

The Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act ... says that the assets that are off of our coast are to be produced and developed for the benefit of the nation.

It makes only logical sense in the ZIP code that — where I'm from — that those who help you accomplish ... your policy, that those people are partners.

You could call it something else. You could call it a lessor. You could call it a lot of different things.

When you call it a partner, I don't understand why people get offended by that. That doesn't mean that we let them do what it is that they want.

How do you view the mission of BSEE? Is it different from the past?

I think our mission is clearly the same, and it is to make sure that we are driving safety performance and environmental sustainability.

I do believe that the way we achieve that mission is perhaps a little different from [the] previous administration. I believe that through innovation and collaboration ... rather than only regulation, we can help drive that safety performance. And I think we are accomplishing that.

At this year's Offshore Technology Conference [OTC], you also stressed the role of production.

One could have a really, really great safety performance by not having any activity. One could also have a really great safety performance by having a lot of activity, as well. I believe that we can do both.

Are you judged if something goes wrong offshore?

This is a tough business, right? We don't have the luxury of taking our eye off the ball.

I don't think this is any different from the performance of a college football coach, right? You're only as good as the last season. Maybe the last game. Maybe the last quarter. Maybe the last play, right?

We've had a good performance last year. The trend data suggests that 2010 ... was a massive wake-up call, and processes have been improved and the results are showing that they're working.

But as we all know the greatest airline is only, you know, as good as the last flight, as well.

What are your thoughts on human-driven climate change and effects on oil and gas?

I don't have any opinions that are worthy of sharing in my professional capacity with you on climate [change].

There was a lot of discussion of emissions at OTC and companies saying they need to produce oil and gas and reduce emissions.

That particular area is not within my ... mission.

Certainly I have my own personal feelings. But I'll keep my personal feelings to myself.

What do you think about potential land loss in Louisiana and what adaptation may be needed and how that could affect oil and gas?

I think that Louisiana has certainly a land loss issue with regards to coastal land loss that its primary issue has been driven by the unintended consequences of leveeing the rivers — the Mississippi River and some of the other rivers — that has basically put those rivers in a straitjacket and not [allowed] them ... to nourish the marshes with the sediment.

I'm sure there are a lot of different comments and a lot of different opinions by a lot of different folks, but that's not what this call's about today.

Does your change in political parties affect anything? You were a Democrat until changing in 2010.

In the aftermath of Macondo, it was clearer to me that it was a national bias. It was a national bias against ... [the] oil and gas industry.

In the Democratic Party?

Absolutely.

I was the lieutenant governor coming up here to represent Louisiana in the aftermath of Deepwater Horizon. And it was my first real exposure to Washington, D.C., and it was amazing to me how there was such a national bias. ... It continues.

Could you explain the well control and blowout preventer rule changes that are slated to go into effect this year?

We got here initially because the previous administration chose to, we believe, do some things that were unnecessary and costly and did not produce a benefit to the American people — a safety benefit.

We got here because the president [of] the United States in [an] executive order specifically instructed us to revisit the well control rule of 2016 and to determine whether or not there were any provisions within that rule that were overly burdensome, that were not producing this corresponding safety benefit. And if we in fact found some of those provisions that met that description, we were to suggest revisions to that.

We put together a team of experts — career experts for the bureau. We hosted a public hearing in Houston, Texas, and a variety of comments and began to draft a rule that fit those instructions.

We went through that process, put it out as a draft rule. During that 60 days of public comment, we extended it by an additional 27 days.

We were listening to those public comments and we produced a rule that we believe is better, is stronger.

Can you explain an aspect of change?

Alternate compliance has been around since 1988.

You have to have a different method to comply that BSEE believes is as safe or safer.

If you allow those things to happen ... and you allow them to happen because they are as safe or safer, doesn't it make sense to then go ahead and write those into the rule as opposed to having one-off, continued one-off reviews of things that you have already reviewed several hundred times and you believe are worthy of an alternative compliance? That's smart.

There's a report from the Project on Government Oversight saying the new rule may be a legal target because of a late addition [Energywire, May 15]. Do you have any thoughts on that?

We are confident we followed the process, and we are confident that we will be victorious in any challenges associated with that.

How does your Louisiana background affect what you do at BSEE?

Makes me the most qualified BSEE director in the history of the country.

You feel like you understand both safety and the need for production?

I think you could do no better than to have someone from a state that understands the value of the worker, the family, the economy, the production.

I feel very prepared to do this job from my previous stint as secretary of [the] Department of Natural Resources in Louisiana.

I believe that energy gives America ... a great opportunity.

How do you interpret energy dominance?

Getting to a point where we can become free and independent of world events influencing ... our energy prices.

I think there's been six recessions since 1973 in America, and each one of 'em have been preceded by a spike in energy prices. So as goes America's access to affordable energy, so goes in a lot of ways its economic performance. That's not deniable. That's not debatable.

I also think that energy dominance lends itself to a comparison — to the farmers of America.

We feed America and we feed the world. Can we take a page out of that playbook and [in] addition to fueling America can we fuel the world?

What should we expect on BSEE and offshore renewables?

There's some conversation going on right now ... regarding BSEE perhaps being the workplace safety agency for offshore wind.

Do you miss Louisiana?

I'm prepared to do this job. And I enjoy it.

Obviously, my family's still in Louisiana. As one of nine kids and the father of five, family's everything to me.

In 2018, I think I slept at my house in Louisiana maybe 22 or 25 nights.

I miss the culture. I miss the people. I miss God's country.

I thought you were going to say food, for sure.

At 57 years old, you know, I gotta start laying off some of that food.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Twitter: @edward_klump Email: eklump@eenews.net

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